Students, Schools, Skills and Jobs
There are about 3.4 million job openings nationwide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last month – a sobering figure during this period of chronically high unemployment. Businesses report a serious lack of skilled workers as being a major problem in filling those positions, according to a variety of reports. In one study by the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation, 40 percent of surveyed, fast-growing companies reported trouble “finding qualified people” as their biggest obstacle to expanding – the single biggest challenge cited.
Greater educational opportunities could help to fill in those blanks – but only if students and workers are able to pursue them. That’s why it’s vital that we:
- Protect and strengthen tax credits that help families access higher education– such policy tools as the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC). This credit makes a college education more affordable by helping low- and moderate-income families – about 8.8 million of them in Tax Year 2009 – offset the rising costs of tuition, books and other materials.
However, the AOTC expires at the end of 2012, without congressional action to extend it as well as significant improvements in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. In the new year, NCTC will continue the work of advocating for permanency of these important measures and ensuring these credits are well-represented in any tax-reform discussions.
- Help students access financial aid for higher education through such means as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Through NCTC’s Financial Aid U program, students receiving free tax preparation help can also obtain assistance in completing and submitting their FAFSA to explore tuition-aid possibilities.
This year, 10 programs in the FAU partnership helped 3,184 students nationwide with their FAFSAs; at least 41 percent were expected to enroll in college in 2011-12 and be awarded $9.3 million in federal and state aid. In the coming year, FAU will expand to include three new programs.
- Keep free tax preparation services strong, to help families get the tax-credit and FAFSA help they need. FAU efforts depend upon such services, and many households are unaware of credits such as the AOTC – or how to claim them –without free tax prep help.
These are reasons to ensure we protect and grow federal, state and local funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The VITA Act legislation filed in the U.S. House and Senate would help – officially authorizing the program and boosting its limited federal resources.
These policies and programs are essential to preparing the workforce of today and tomorrow. They help people develop the skills they need to obtain and retain gainful employment, not to mention helping our nation compete in an increasingly complex, global market.
We look forward to working with our members on their behalf in the new year, bolstering important priorities like higher-education tax credits, Financial Aid U and VITA.
By Sean Noble, Director of Public Policy & Research