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Becky Goodwin: Where’s my millionaire?

Becky Goodwin
Other Voices

June is the sunny month for caps and gowns, and photos of smiling grads with diplomas and balloon bouquets. It’s a happy time for proud families, students and educators.

’Tis the season for commencement celebrations, and oh, yes, the commencement of payments on the student loans that helped make it possible!

Yikes! Some students, and their parents, will be paying off loans for decades. Even the low-interest federal loans that many of us and our kids were able to get take 10 years to pay off.

This September, you might hear me shouting “Hurrah!” That will be because I have no more payments on my “Parent Plus” federal loan for my daughter’s university education. I started paying it in 2009, and the last payment is this August!

Why can’t we fund education another way? Why can’t we all share the cost?

Oh, but then, there are the loan payments for my other student! His loan payments and mine will go on until 2026. Sigh.

Often at this time of year, there are some feel-good news stories about millionaires paying off the loans for an entire graduating class, and about mega funds that have been built to make some college programs tuition-free. How wonderful! I am glad for all who will benefit from these generous donors.

But wait, what about the rest of us? Where is our millionaire? Where is our benefactor?

Why can’t we fund education another way? Why can’t we all share the cost? What if all Americans, through our income taxes, could fund education together?

I appreciate the generous and visionary millionaires who make some schools tuition-free, and who surprise a graduating class with an announcement of “debt paid.” Their grand actions shine a light on a deep inequality in our nation.

But it is the rare super-rich person who does this. Even those who are super generous (Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, to name a few), essentially get to give what they want when they want. They give to what calls to their hearts, and this is truly magnanimous. I know that these folks genuinely ache for the injustice in our world, and with their big hopes and big bank accounts, they ease the pain for others.

The problem with relying on the generosity of the rich is that the rest of us citizens have no particular say in what gets funded. The rich get to feel good about paying for what they want to fund (And of course, they get tax write-offs, too!). It becomes a gambling game for the rest of us. Which college will get a surprise gift next year? Who will get lucky?

I once worked in a “friends of the library” organization in another town. We “wined and dined” an elite group of well-off people once a year to solicit their donations, and their names went on a donor display wall. Why should this be necessary to buy books for a public library?

There are some things for the public good that should not be at the mercy of the wealthy. Some things that are for ALL of us should be paid for by all of us, and this should be in accordance with our income.

All high-income folks should be taxed at higher rates, and those taxes should join the taxes of everyone else to fund education and other important needs in our country. As for me, a lower middle class worker, I don’t mind if I pay more taxes, too. I would rather pay a little more income tax, so that all may have low-cost public higher education, than the whopper loan bills I am currently paying off!

I am proud of my kids and myself for cooperating to make their education possible. Their dad had died, which dropped our income to a place from (to) which I could no longer add to the college savings plan. We used what we had saved, and there were gifts from Grandma, and my kids worked part-time jobs all through college, and we borrowed some of the necessary funds. We did it!

When each of my kids graduated, their universities sent me those nice congratulatory letters, with brochures inviting me to donate to scholarship funds. I laughed and cried at the same time.

I would love so much to help other young people get their education!

Instead, I replied: contact me again in 10 years when I pay off the student loans!

Becky Goodwin lives in Grass Valley.


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