A bill that just passed the Washington State Legislature is going to make college free for a lot of people.
Lawmakers just made college tuition-free for a lot of people in Washington state. PM Images / Getty Images

If your family can't afford to send you to college—or even if your family can afford some college costs, but would struggle with others—Washington state is about to start offering you a potentially life-changing amount of money.

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Under a bill passed by the state legislature this year, students from families earning less than around $50,000 per year can have their entire public college tuition paid by Washington state, whether they're enrolling in a local two-year vocational program or a local four-year university.

Bill sponsor Drew Hansen, a Democrat who represents Bainbridge Island in the state house, said close to $1 billion over four years will be raised for this new "Washington College Grant" program, as well as other related investments in higher education, through "a dedicated surcharge on the businesses that depend on higher education to exist."

In other words, this state is raising taxes on your future employers in order to help you get the kind of education that might make those businesses want to employ you.

If you've heard something about this already, you might be aware that Microsoft and Amazon actually endorsed raising their own state business taxes in order to fund this program. It was such an unusual occurrence that it received some notice, but before you get too blown away know this: the bill's fine print actually spreads the burden of raising the new, dedicated education money among more than 80,000 businesses in Washington state. "Businesses that depend on higher education," Hansen explained, "such as technology, engineering, accounting, and more."

Contributions from Amazon and Microsoft—or, as the bill's language puts it, contributions from "select advanced computing businesses" that take in more than $100 billion annually in global revenue—are capped at $7 million per year.

So while two of the state's leading tech giants did push for this bill, the language of the bill assures that if their revenues continue to stay at the same astronomic levels, they will be tossing less than .007 percent of their annual gross income into this new education pot each tax season. (While the vast majority of the money for tuition assistance—more than 95 percent of it—will come from businesses in this state that are not Amazon and Microsoft.)

But hey, it's still a lot of money and in addition to paying the entire in-state tuition of lower-income Washingtonians, the money will be used to offer tuition assistance to students from families earning Washington state's median income—now around $90,000 a year for a family of four, according to Hansen.

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You don't even have to be the age of a traditional student to qualify. Older Washingtonians can get this money, too.

Hansen calls it all a "huge investment," which is kind of an understatement. (Unless you're talking about the one-seven-thousandth-of-one-percent contributions from Amazon and Microsoft global revenues each year, in which case it is probably an overstatement.)

The new measure, which is expected to be signed soon by Governor Jay Inslee, takes effect for the 2020 school year.