Betsy DeVos’ answer to school shooters is to mandate more unfair discipline for minorities

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be rolling back protections against unfair discipline for minority students, instead of pursuing gun control, The New York Times reported Monday.

“The Trump administration is planning to roll back Obama-era policies aimed at ensuring that minority children are not unfairly disciplined, arguing that the efforts have eased up on punishment and contributed to rising violence in the nation’s schools,” The Timesexplained.

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Trump had a “brief flirtation with gun control” before rejecting that approach and starting a school safety commission.

The commission was lead by DeVos and included former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar II and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

“Almost immediately, the commission turned away from guns, and instead scrutinized the Obama administration’s school discipline policies, though none of the most high-profile school shootings were perpetrated by black students,” The Times noted. “The documents obtained by The Times — a draft letter and a draft chapter of the safety commission’s research — focus significantly on race and promote the idea that the federal crackdown on potentially discriminatory practices has made schools more dangerous.”

Six documents included in the Obama administration’s “Rethink Discipline” approach are expected to be rescinded on Tuesday.

“The Obama administration policies were adopted after strong evidence emerged that minority students were receiving more suspensions and tougher punishments than white students for the same or lesser offenses, while disabled students were too quickly being shunted into remedial or special-education programs,” The Times added.

[Raw Story]

Betsy DeVos sued for allegedly refusing to follow court order

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued for refusing to follow a judge’s order to implement Obama-era regulations. The lawsuit claims DeVos was required to “discharge,” or stop collecting on loans of students who attended for-profit schools and colleges if the institution or their campus had shut down, as The Hill reports.

“It has been nearly two years since these rules should have taken effect, and Secretary DeVos is still dragging her feet and hurting tens of thousands of borrowers through her inaction,” National Student Legal Defense Network (NSLDN) President Aaron Ament said in a statement.

“The students we are trying to help have been doubly victimized – first by the for-profit colleges that deceived them, and now by the federal government that refuses to help.”

The lawsuit says the Education Dept. continues to collect on debts the students should not owe.

The Hill adds that a federal court in October “ruled that the Obama-era debt regulations had to be implemented after over a year of delays by DeVos.”

The Washington Post notes that Secretary DeVos “said that the rule made it too easy for students to cancel their debts and that she intended to replace it with her own version to take effect next year.”

In August the LA Times Editorial Board charged that DeVos “sides with predatory for-profit colleges over America’s students.”

[Raw Story]

DeVos prepping new rules on sexual misconduct standards for campuses

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is formulating new policies regarding how universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

The new rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, reduce liability for colleges and universities and encourage schools to broaden their support networks for victims, according to The New York Times.

The rules would reportedly limit accountability for schools to complaints that happened on campus and were filed through proper authorities. They would also raise the bar legally for proving a school mishandled a complaint, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines for universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelinesfor universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

DeVos claimed the guidelines represented federal overreach.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” she said at the time. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

[The Hill]

DeVos is reportedly considering letting schools use federal money to arm teachers

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is considering a policy change that would allow states and school districts to use federal money to buy guns for teachers, according to a report by the New York Times’s Erica Green.

This comes as the idea of arming teachers is picking up steam among some conservatives since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February. Two Florida universities have pilot programs to arm educators, and the Florida state legislature passed a bill in March that would allow armed teachers in school classrooms.

The federal government typically bans the use of federal funds to purchase firearms for schools. But DeVos and officials at the Department of Education are reportedly considering the use of Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants — which don’t exclude states or local districts from buying guns. The department wouldn’t need Congress’s approval, since the grants are already law.

These grants are part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a major federal education law passed in 2015. The grants are typically used to boost student health and wellness, but they don’t say they can’t be used to buy firearms.

With all the discussion about increasing the number of armed professionals in schools this year in the wake of more high-profile school shootings, Congress has stopped short of using federal money to arm teachers. A school safety bill passed earlier this year that contained $50 million per year for districts, but it banned the districts from using any of the money to buy firearms.

The Education Department is trying to downplay the report: “The Department is constantly considering and evaluating policy issues, particularly issues related to school safety,” Education Department spokesperson Liz Hill said in a statement to Vox. “The Secretary nor the Department issues opinions on hypothetical scenarios.”

Hill also told Education Week, “The NY Times piece is getting blown way out of proportion.”

There’s also a new effort underway in the Senate to try to stop DeVos from moving forward, should she choose to. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), an outspoken supporter of gun control issues, introduced an emergency amendment to an Education Department funding bill on Thursday that would ban DeVos from using federal money to arm teachers.

“My lord — we can’t let this happen,” Murphy said.

Texas initially asked about buying guns with federal money

The Education Department reportedly started studying the issue after getting a question from officials in Texas about whether the federal ESSA grants could be used to buy guns, according to Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa.

“Department officials have been researching the issue, like they do with every issue, in response to this Texas letter,” a senior Trump administration official told Ujifusa, noting that while discussions were ongoing, no final decision has been made yet.

If DeVos were to approve the money to allow local districts to buy guns or train teachers on using them, the decision would likely be extremely controversial, both within the education community and outside it.

National gun safety groups and teachers unions issued statements condemning the Education Department for even considering the move.

[Vox]

DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

For-profit college fraud investigations scaled back under Betsy DeVos

A Department of Education team that had looked into fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges has been dismantled to the point that it has “effectively killed investigations” into institutions where top hires of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once worked, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing current and former employees.

The team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members today, the Times reported. Current and former employees, including former team members, said the team’s mission has been reduced to processing student loan forgiveness applications and examining smaller compliance cases, the newspaper said.

An investigation into DeVry University, now known as Adtalem Global Education, “ground to a halt early last year,” and later, over the summer, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the school, to be the team’s supervisor, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, probes into for-profit education companies Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. also “went dark,” the newspaper said. The Times reported that former employees of those institutions are working for DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, a former Bridgepoint attorney who is now her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a former Career Education employee who is now a senior postsecondary education adviser at the department. The department’s recently confirmed general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, provided consulting services to Career Education, the newspaper said.

[CNN]

DeVos Education Dept. Begins Dismissing Civil Rights Cases in Name of Efficiency

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office.

Department officials said the new policy targeted advocates who flooded the office with thousands of complaints for similar violations, jamming its investigation pipeline with cases that could be resolved without exhausting staff and resources. But civil rights advocates worry that the office’s rejection of legitimate claims is the most obvious example to date of its diminishing role in enforcing civil rights laws in the nation’s schools.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the new provision was part of the office’s revision of its manual that lays out procedures for processing civil rights cases. The goal of the new manual, which took effect last month, is to help the office better manage its docket, investigations and resolutions, she said.

Among the changes implemented immediately is a provision that allows the Office for Civil Rights to dismiss cases that reflect “a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients,” or complaints “filed for the first time against multiple recipients that” place “an unreasonable burden on O.C.R.’s resources.”

So far, the provision has resulted in the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints.

Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration, said the new provision undermined the mission of the office. Unlike the Justice Department, the Education Department cannot pick and choose the cases it pursues. If the office has evidence that the law has been violated, it must open a case.

“The thing that scares me is when they get to say ‘we won’t open some cases because it’s too much for us,’ or ‘we don’t like complainant,’ or ‘it’s not our week to work on that,’ you start to change the character of the office,” Ms. Lhamon said.

But Debora L. Osgood, a lawyer who worked for 25 years at the Office for Civil Rights and now consults with and represents schools on civil rights matters, praised the change. She said the provision showed that the agency was “essentially taking the reins back for control of its complaint docket.”

Ms. Osgood said that in her experience, one person could clog the pipeline in each of the agency’s 12 regional offices, limiting investigators’ ability to respond to other complaints. It often frustrated investigators who prided themselves on being able to resolve complaints promptly, she said.

[The New York Times]

Betsy DeVos Is Telling States to Stop Cracking Down on Student Loan Companies

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stepped into a fight between student loan companies and state regulators — and she’s siding with the loan companies.

State attorneys general have led the charge to hold loan servicers accountable for practices that hurt consumers. The loan companies, by contrast, have argued that because they are hired directly by the U.S. government to manage loan repayment for roughly 40 million borrowers, they shouldn’t be subject to additional state laws aimed at protecting those borrowers.

Now, in an announcement posted online Friday, the U.S. Department of Education has taken a side — maintaining that state rules aimed at greater consumer protection undermine the federal government’s goal to have a single, streamlined federal loan program.

The memo doesn’t have any legal effect on current state laws, according to consumer advocates at the Center for Responsible Lending. But it is the latest move in an ongoing struggle between student loan servicers and state lawmakers.

Loan servicers basically serve as middlemen between you and your lender (in this case, the federal government). You likely associate their names—Navient, Nelnet, PHEAA, or MOHELA, for example—with your monthly student loan bill. Consumer and student advocates have been criticizing the behavior of servicers for years. Borrowers complain of lost paperwork, conflicting advice on repayment plans, payments applied to the wrong loans, and more.

Back in 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that sloppy customer service practices had led to higher interest charges and late fees, longer repayment, and massive confusion for borrowers. More recently, the Bureau received 12,900 student loan complaints between September 2016 and August 2017 — and 70% of them were related to servicing issues.

Regulators in a handful of states say that federal oversight hasn’t been strict enough to rein in this bad behavior, and have launched their own investigations into the practices of student loan servicers. Twelve states and the District of Columbia also have either passed or introduced legislation that requires loan servicers to obtain licenses — and therefore abide by a given set of guidelines — to operate in their state, according to the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a trade group for lenders.

In Illinois, for example, the Student Loan Bill of Rights — which survived a veto from the governor last fall — will require servicers to employ specially trained staffers to advise struggling borrowers of their repayment plan options. Other state rules outline how quickly servicers must respond to borrower inquiries, or require them to alert a borrower whose account has been transferred to a new servicer (a common practice that borrowers often don’t know about).

The loan servicers, for their part, say they already follow rules put in place by the federal government — and that because they manage accounts across the country, complying with a myriad of additional state laws would be counterproductive, duplicative, and confusing.

NCHER, the lender trade group, said on Friday that while the group believes there are ways the federal loan system could be improved, the current collection of state laws is a “regulatory maze” that adds confusion for borrowers and additional costs for the federal government.

In October, a group of 25 state attorneys general sent a letter to DeVos, defending their right to “[protect] their residents from fraudulent and abusive practices” and asking her not to bow to pressure from industry groups that wanted the department to step in on their behalf. That group of state officials included Democratic attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, all of which have been at the forefront of pushing for better oversight of student loan servicers. But it also included attorneys general from some Republican states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Politico first reported on DeVos’s plans to try to shield loan servicers from state regulations. The magazine also found, through a records request, that the Education Department has told the student loan companies not to respond directly to information requests from third parties — including state regulators.

More than 11 million borrowers are several months behind on their loan payments, and the rate of new defaults has continued to increase despite the presence of income-driven repayment plans that should keep borrowers out of default. That’s one reason consumer advocates say servicers must do better about informing borrowers about repayment options.

In the department’s newly released memo, DeVos writes that existing federal protections already “ensure that borrowers receive exemplary customer service and are protected from substandard practices.”

Consumer advocates disagree, with many immediately bashing the move from DeVos. The National Consumer Law Center described it as a “plan to protect servicers and debt collectors that lie to borrowers.”

The Consumer Federation of America, meanwhile, says the department’s interpretation doesn’t hold up legally, and that state regulators should ignore it. (Some state lawmakers have already indicated they plan to.) Lawmakers have long held that the federal Higher Education Act doesn’t override state laws that offer additional protections to borrowers, as long as those rules don’t directly conflict with federal law, according to the statement from Christopher Peterson, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.

“Now the Trump Administration is attempting to trample states’ authority and the best interests of student loan borrowers to pad the bottom line of debt collection businesses,” their statement reads.

[TIME]

Trump team halts rules meant to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges

The Trump administration is suspending two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, saying it will soon start the process to write its own regulations.

The move made Wednesday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a victory for Republican lawmakers and for-profit colleges that had lobbied against the rules. Critics denounced it, accusing the administration of essentially selling out students to help for-profit colleges stay in business.

The Education Department released a statement saying that it was going to create new committees to rewrite rules covering borrower defense to repaying, or BDR, and gainful employment. BDR relieves students of all federal loans if a school used illegal or deceptive tactics to persuade students to borrow money to attend. Gainful employment requires that action be taken — including possible expulsion from the federal student aid program — against vocational programs whose graduates leave with heavy student loan debt. Ninety-eight percent of the programs that officials found to have failed to meet those standards are offered by for-profit colleges.

Parts of the gainful employment rule are already in effect. BDR was set to become effective July 1 but will now be postponed. The Education Department said that while new rules are drawn up, it will process applications under the current borrower defense rules.

A program is considered to lead to “gainful employment” if the annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20% of their discretionary income or 8% of their total earnings. Exceeding those debt-to-earnings rates means possible expulsion from the federal student aid program.

DeVos criticized the regulations that were approved by the Obama administration, saying that they are unfair to students and schools and that they leave taxpayers with a big bill.

“Fraud, especially fraud committed by a school, is simply unacceptable,” she said in her department’s statement. “Unfortunately, last year’s rule-making effort missed an opportunity to get it right. The result is a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs. It’s time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students. It’s time for a regulatory reset. It is the department’s aim, and this administration’s commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow.”

The American Federation of Teachers pushed back against the decision.

“The Trump administration’s actions today show that the White House stands with predatory for-profit schools, not the students they rip off,” it said in a statement. “About the only thing worse than ripping off students with worthless degrees from for-profit colleges is denying them help to relieve their substantial debt, and allowing the schools to continue to prey on students. Given that for-profit colleges were big donors to Trump and other Republican candidates, one wonders whether this is simply a new pay-to-play scheme at the expense of our students, including our veterans, who are much helped by the rules Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to eliminate.”

Not everyone in higher education opposed the administration’s move, however. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the United Negro College Fund and the National Assn. for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education — which represent historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs — sent a letter to DeVos this week urging her to put a hold on the implementation of the regulations and reconsider them.

“We remain concerned about the sweeping scope of the regulation and vague standards for determining ‘misrepresentation’ that could unfairly leave HBCUs and PBIs liable for frivolous claims, unwarranted fines, and unfounded penalties,” they said in the letter. “Such provisions could result in significant costs that would divert precious resources better spent on serving the needs of students.”

The nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending smacked DeVos’ move, saying in a statement that she had “put the profit margins of for-profit colleges ahead of the interests of students and their families” in “a craven attempt to avoid the agency’s legal obligation” to enforce the rules. The statement cited a part of the Obama-era rules that included a ban on the use of forced arbitration clauses in many student enrollment contracts:

“These clauses require students to submit any dispute that might later arise between the students and the institution to binding arbitration, a private process with little right to appeal, instead of a court of law. The rules also provide new and long-needed protections for students asserting defenses against repayment of their federal loans based on fraud or other misconduct by the students’ schools.”

[The Los Angeles Times]

DeVos ‘Not Going to Be Issuing Decrees’ on Civil Rights Protections

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos clashed with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday over protections for LGBT students, balking when asked directly if she would ban private schools from receiving federal funds if they discriminate against these students.

The Trump administration wants to invest millions into an unprecedented expansion of private-school vouchers and public-private charter schools, prompting critics to worry that religious schools, for example, might expel LGBT students or, more broadly, that private schools might refuse to admit students with disabilities. Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos told Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “Let me be clear: Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law. Period.”

But after another Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, pointed out that federal law is “somewhat foggy” surrounding LGBT student protections, DeVos simply repeated that schools must follow federal law, adding, “Discrimination in any form is wrong.”

Merkley pressed again, asking DeVos point-blank whether private and charter schools receiving federal funds under Trump’s budget proposal could discriminate against students based on sexual orientation or religion.

She said the department “is not going to be issuing decrees” on civil rights protections.

Merkley asked Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee, to note that DeVos refused to directly answer the question.

DeVos came under fire last month for a nearly identical exchange, refusing to tell a House Appropriations subcommittee whether she would block federal voucher funding to private schools that discriminate against LGBT students. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told DeVos, “To take the federal government’s responsibility out of that is just appalling and sad.”

DeVos’ spokeswoman later said the controversy stemmed from a “fundamental misunderstanding” by lawmakers about what the secretary was talking about. On Tuesday, DeVos sought to clarify that she wasn’t talking about a specific voucher proposal. “It is really appropriations language,” she said.

During the nearly two-and-a-half-hour hearing, DeVos defended the Trump administration’s proposed $9 billion cut to education, saying the planned 13% reduction in funding may seem shocking, but it’s necessary.

“I’ve seen the headlines, and I understand those figures are alarming for many,” DeVos told lawmakers, according to her prepared testimony. The proposed 2018 budget, she said, refocuses the department on supporting states and school districts in their efforts to provide “high-quality education” to all students while simplifying college funding, among other efforts.

Overall, Trump plans to eliminate or phase out 22 programs that the administration says are “duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through state, local, or private efforts.”

The administration wants to cut teacher training, vocational training and before- and after-school programs, among others. It also wants to eliminate subsidized loans and a new loan forgiveness program for students who commit to public service after college. Trump wants to funnel the savings into several school choice proposals — including a $250 million fund for expanding public funding of private-school vouchers.

The proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress. On Tuesday, Blunt, a Republican, called it “a difficult budget request to defend,” saying deep cuts to programs like after-school would be “all but impossible” to get through the committee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Trump’s budget request “can be summed up in one word: abysmal.”

As she has recently, DeVos on Tuesday took a swat at past federal efforts to reform education, noting that discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Education quadrupled between 1989 and 2016, from $17.1 billion to $68.3 billion.

The “seemingly endless” reform efforts, she said, have been top-down and have generated “more publicity than results,” failing to close long-standing achievement gaps between white, middle-class students and their low-income and minority peers. They’ve also produced disappointing results for high school graduation and college completion rates.

While achievement has been mixed in recent decades, high school graduation and college completion rates have actually risen, sometimes sharply. Federal data show that in 2015, the graduation rate for public high school students rose to a record-high 83%. U.S. colleges also awarded more degrees — 961,167, up 35.2% from a decade earlier.

A GOP mega-donor and four-time chair of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos previously ran an organization that promotes private-school choice. DeVos last month called school choice critics “flat-earthers” and said expanding families’ educational choices is a way to bring U.S. education “out of the Stone Age and into the future.”

On Tuesday, she said more choice would help families in more ways than one, noting that when parents decide proactively which school their child should attend, “there’s a lot more engagement, naturally, as a result of that.”

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