Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D-Virginia-07) reintroduced the Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow’s Workforce Act on Tuesday. The bill, HR 2171, allows tax-advantaged 529 education savings accounts to be used to pay for tuition, exam, and supplies for technical education. Spanberger was joined by cosponsors including Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Virginia-01), Congressman Fred Upton (R-Michigan-06) and Congressman Dean Philips (D-Minnesota-03).
“Especially as we rebuild our economy in the wake of COVID-19, we need to make sure Central Virginia students and workers receive the training required to remain competitive and successful. 529 savings plans have long ensured that the next generation of Virginia workers can afford a higher education — but students are currently constrained from using these accounts to pay for necessary credentialing programs and exams,” Spanberger said in a press release.
Under current tax law, 529 plans only cover colleges, vocational schools, universities, and similar schools. According to the National Skills Coalition, 52 percent of jobs require additional post-high school skills training but do not require a four-year degree. The Truck Driver Institute (TDI) states, “One tool that used to guarantee success was going to college and receiving a Bachelor’s degree. Then, that tool became a Master’s, and from there, a Doctorate.”
TDI suggests technical education as a more affordable alternative. However, although technical education is cheaper, the cost is not insignificant. Average costs for technical school are $33,000, while college is $127,000, according to TDI.
Wittman said, “One of my top priorities is ensuring our students cultivate the skill sets needed to thrive in today’s workforce. This bipartisan legislation creates opportunities for students to pursue post-secondary credentialing programs by allowing them to use their 529 savings to pay for tuition, exams, and supplies.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) sponsored a companion bill in the Senate, joined by cosponsors Mike Braun (R-Indiana), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), and Joe Manchin, III (D-West Virginia.) Spanberger sponsored a similar bill in 2020 that failed to make it out of committee, although she was joined by cosponsors including Wittman and Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia-02).
“Even for those who have completed college, a key differentiator for obtaining a job at any skill level is a professional certification. These credentials provide workers the recognition they need to compete for jobs in the 21st century economy,” states a 2020 Professional Certification Coalition fact sheet.
“[The credentials] also open up important new avenues for professional growth and development and signal to employers and potential customers that certification-holders have met established standards for knowledge, specialized skills, and competencies in their fields,” the sheet states.
“No matter your resources or your professional goals, every American deserves access to a quality education,” Phillips said in Spanberger’s press release. “By making workforce training more affordable and accessible, this bipartisan bill will help make that aspiration a reality. Especially after such a difficult year, this is exactly the kind of policy we need to get our economy back on track. I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues to get this important legislation to the President’s desk.”
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