Governor Andrew Cuomo’s pathbreaking plan for free tuition at New York public colleges and universities won the backing of the state legislature over the weekend. With Cuomo’s signature, New York will become the first state in the country to fund free tuition for students at community colleges or four-year public institutions, as long as their families make less than $125,000 a year.
The approval of Cuomo’s plan, along with a similar free tuition initiative by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, is the latest evidence that Democratic Party’s best idea of the 2016 race continues to advance at the state level. Cuomo unveiled his plan in January alongside Senator Bernie Sanders, who made free tuition a signature proposal in his White House bid and prompted Hillary Clinton to embrace the idea in the general election. (Sanders and other Senate progressives introduced federal free-tuition legislation last week, but it’s going nowhere with Republicans in control.)
Albany’s support was a significant political victory for Cuomo, a Democratic centrist who can use this accomplishment to court liberals if, as expected, he runs for president in 2020. It’s also proof that free college is now a mainstream policy in the Democratic Party. Former President Barack Obama proposed funding two years of community college for students who met certain requirements, and the movement for free community college has actually drawn bipartisan support across the country.
For Democrats moving forward, though, community college is the baseline. In an interview with Rhode Island Public Radio about Raimondo’s plan last week, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez called free tuition “the wave of the present and the wave of the future.”