LEWISTON — As Congress works to reconcile differences between the House and Senate tax bills, it is worth pausing to consider the impact of both on the nation’s young people and their life prospects. After an election driven in no small part by concerns that, for the first time in U.S. history, our children’s lives might not be better than their parents’, this legislation’s assault on educational opportunity is as puzzling as it is ill-conceived.

According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Commission on Taxation, the House version of the bill would cost America’s students an estimated $71 billion over the next decade. Cuts directed at students will eliminate a range of tax benefits for undergraduates and their families, hike taxes on graduate students by thousands of dollars and place unprecedented burdens on colleges and universities.

LOAN INTEREST DEDUCTION

The House bill repeals the student loan interest deduction, which allows borrowers making less than $80,000 per year to deduct the interest they pay on student loans. In 2015 alone, this provision offered tax relief to 12 million American households.

The House proposal also targets continuing education, eliminating the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Hope Scholarship Credit and the deductibility of employer-provided tuition assistance. These supports are sorely needed in Maine, where barely 40 percent of residents hold college degrees, and where economists estimate that 15,000 new high-skilled positions will go unfilled unless more residents complete some level of higher education. Work is changing rapidly, and workers need to keep up. Eliminating deductions that allow working adults to retool with new skills and credentials will only widen the skills gap in Maine, making it harder for individuals to earn a living and harder for the state to attract new businesses.

Taxing graduate school tuition waivers would create insurmountable financial barriers for our most talented and ambitious scholars, and seriously threaten the American research enterprise, which has long been the innovation engine of the world. These students power American research by teaching undergraduates and working in labs while pursuing their graduate degrees. Advances in medical technology, global positioning systems, antibiotics and weather forecasting, among countless other examples, all originated in university research.

Colleges and universities also face real burdens from both versions of the bill.

The House would eliminate tax-exempt private activity bonds, which colleges use to finance the building of dormitories, classrooms and laboratories that support learning and research.

Both the House and Senate versions also raise the standard deduction, reducing the incentive for donors to make charitable contributions that colleges – and all charitable organizations – depend on.

Both proposals levy an excise tax on investment income from college endowments above a certain level, depriving colleges and universities of an estimated $2.4 billion over 10 years that is currently used to support programs, like financial aid, that directly benefit students.

Finally, eliminating or capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes – measures contained in both bills – will put pressure on states to cut income taxes, reducing a key revenue source for Maine’s perennially strapped community colleges and public universities.

LONG-TERM INVESTMENT

Seventy-three years ago, in 1944, as soldiers returned from World War II, the American Legion proposed a new kind of veterans benefit designed not as a short-term cash bonus, which had been the norm, but as a long-term investment in the education and life prospects of returning soldiers. The GI Bill, enacted with bipartisan support, provided veterans with, among other benefits, tuition and living assistance to attend high school, college, graduate school or training programs. By 1957, 7.8 million veterans had taken advantage of these educational benefits.

This influx of talent and ambition into the nation’s colleges and universities, combined with federal support for university research, created the greatest engine of innovation in the world, expanded the pool of highly skilled labor and ushered in an unprecedented period of U.S. economic growth.

Congress’ current efforts at tax reform stand in sharp contrast to the expansive vision of the GI Bill. By increasing the cost of education for both students and institutions, the tax bill will constrict access to education at a time when it has never been more vital to individual advancement or national prosperity.

It is ironic that a measure called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” promises to constrain development of the labor force needed to do these jobs.