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Chairman Smith Opening Statement – Markup of Legislation to Hold Universities Accountable, Expand Educational Freedom, & Block Tax Dollars to China

July 09, 2024

As prepared for delivery.

“Over the last few months, Americans watched in shock as many so-called “elite” colleges and universities descended into chaos and allowed antisemitism to run unchecked – in many instances leading to violence, harassment, and threats against Jewish students. Despite what appeared from the outside as clear violations of campus policy and rules, and perhaps even the law, leaders at these prestigious schools simply sat back and did nothing. Instead, it appears that universities are putting radical ideologies over the safety and well-being of Jewish students. 

“Today, the Ways and Means Committee will be considering legislation that helps hold colleges and universities accountable for violating a student’s civil rights and protect students on campus from rampant antisemitism and harassment. We will also consider legislation that helps parents save for their kid’s K through 12 education expenses, and a bill protecting American taxpayer dollars from going to China. 

“On college campuses, the ongoing explosion of antisemitism has shined a spotlight on the ways colleges have ceased to be centers of higher learning. They accept billions from foreign nations and hire armies of lobbyists that protect their financial bottom lines. But when it comes to protecting students on their campus, that is a different story.

“For months, this Committee has investigated antisemitic behavior at these so-called elite universities, and we have found that: 

  • Weak university leadership has failed to protect students, enforce their policies, and discipline students and faculty who violate them;
  • Radical faculty have emboldened students to take part in antisemitic activity and have themselves broken campus policies; 
  • And dark foreign influences and some international students have helped fuel these protests. 

“In these ways, colleges and universities are failing to fulfill their educational purpose on which their generous tax-exempt status rests. 

“Legislation before us today will impose real, financial consequences on universities that continue to turn a blind eye to antisemitism while allowing a small fringe to rule their campuses.

“At a previous hearing, a Jewish student testified that the only meaningful change on campus came as a result of House Republicans’ investigation. We need to ensure these universities step up and start protecting Jewish students in compliance with federal law.

“Our first bill up would levy new penalties on universities found by a court to have violated a student’s civil rights, including discrimination against Jewish students.

“Our second bill helps incentivize institutions to admit more American students into colleges or universities. At some Ivy League schools, foreign students make up as much as half of the student body. This bill will align the tax code with a definition used to determine who is eligible for federal financial assistance under the Higher Education Act. Specifically, for purposes of calculating which schools are subject to the endowment tax, only the same students who are eligible for financial assistance under the Higher Education Act will be counted as part of the endowment tax calculations. This would exclude students on temporary student visas, which would incentivize schools to give more American students the opportunity to go to college. Without additional changes, current data suggests this bill will expand the scope of the endowment tax to about a dozen additional schools. 

“Our Committee has focused on ways to improve K-12 and postsecondary education in other ways as well. In October, parents and leaders shared powerful testimony about how their lives changed when they had access to more avenues to get a quality education and workforce opportunities. The message was clear: parents want to be able to give their children a better education and more opportunities for a better future.

“To that end, legislation introduced by Congressman Hern allows 529 accounts to cover educational expenses for both K-12 schooling and technical training. It would cover materials like books, tutoring, educational therapies for students with disabilities, and supplies for homeschooling. This provision builds on the Trump tax cuts that allowed 529s to cover up to $10,000 per year for K-12 tuition expenses. In 2019, the Student Empowerment Act, with these same provisions, was included in the bipartisan SECURE Act reported unanimously out of the Ways and Means Committee. However, the provision was removed, by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before the legislation made it to the House floor.  

“A four-year degree isn’t right for everyone. Americans who want to learn a trade or skill deserve the same shot at their dreams. That’s why this bill covers tuition, fees, books, and other costs related to technical training. Joining Congressman Hern in introducing the Education and Workforce Freedom Act are Congressmen Wittman, Collins, and Finstad. I would also like to recognize them for their leadership in expanding 529 accounts to cover additional workforce opportunities, including Americans seeking to become pilots. Between their three bills, they have amassed 377 bipartisan cosponsors this Congress.

“Separately, we are also considering legislation from Congresswoman Miller to overturn a Biden Administration regulation allowing companies tied to the Chinese Communist Party to profit from American tax dollars. The Biden Administration is sacrificing our economic independence in order to force more Americans to drive an electric vehicle. This rule should concern Democrats, just as it does Republicans, for being a direct contradiction of the language of the so-called ‘Inflation Reduction Act.’

“If President Biden vetoes this CRA, he is leaving the door wide open to making the American taxpayer China’s piggy bank.

“I hope my colleagues will join me in advancing these bills through this Committee and to the House floor.”