“I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability.”
This is what U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim reportedly told Education Department lawyers last week about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
“There have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times.”
That order came during the Obama administration, involving 335,000 former Corinthian College and ITT Technical Institute students whom the federal government determined were eligible under the Borrower Defense to Repayment program for student loan debt forgiveness after the now-defunct Corinthian, one of the largest for-profit college chains, defrauded them.
The Obama administration put in place policies requiring the U.S. Education Department to investigate loan servicing companies’ past conduct before the government awarded lucrative contracts. Those contracts were required to include certain consumer protections, such as prohibiting loan servicing companies from cheating federal student loan borrowers, and guiding borrowers through the repayment process.
Once DeVos assumed Education Dept. control after Donald Trump took office, however, she ignored the approximately 160,000 loan forgiveness applications until 80,000 individuals won a class action lawsuit compelling her to stop collecting on their loans.
Garnishing former students’ tax refunds and wages despite the court order, DeVos continued collecting on loans, benefiting 102 companies posing potential conflicts of interest, exposing her investments in the very companies from which Obama’s student lending policies were meant to protect.
Last October, U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss rejected a request to eliminate the Obama-era regulations from a group representing for-profit colleges.
This led Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, to urge DeVos to defy Moss’ order.
At a hearing on the department’s budget in March, Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) asked DeVos:
“Don’t you have a heart? Victim students [are] waiting on your department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives.”
Data from the Education Dept. Washington Senator Patty Murray requested shows there are were 158,000 pending claims from last September to December.
The Edu. Dept. did not state it approved or denied any borrower defense claims this year.
Sen Murray argued:
“There’s nothing stopping Secretary DeVos from providing relief to struggling borrowers today, and she needs to begin approving claims immediately so students who were cheated out of their education and savings get the relief they are entitled to.”
Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending director of litigation, Eileen Connor, states she had borrowers with four-year-old claims.
She argues loan debt has ballooned, and in lawsuits, her group described delays causing borrowers anxiety, fear, psychological and financial distress.
“The department’s delay is not neutral. It’s harming students.”
“I don’t want to put any words in the judge’s mouth, but I think based on the evidence, it’s unquestionable that the Department of Education is in contempt of the court order. There really is no factual question about it.”
“Not only has the Department of Education over and over refused to do its job and discharge the loans, but it has also refused to just follow the basic laws of the court. It really takes the cake. It’s far beyond what I’ve seen before.”
Attorneys for DeVos and the Department of Education have until October 21 to file relevant briefings to argue the contempt of court motion.
Toby Merrill’s team will have an additional week to then respond.
Image the Education Secretary behind bars.
More likely, Kim will impose fines, order hebdomadal updates, and/or assign a judge to supervise Education Dept. compliance.
In addition to ignoring student loan protections to help her family’s vested business interests, Betsy DeVos also reversed Obama’s directive requiring schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms that conform to their gender identities. She also scrapped Obama-era guidelines on investigating college and university campus sexual assault, discarded 72 policy documents outlining disabled students’ rights codified under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act (IDEA), and rescinded students’ civil rights protections.
Last year, DeVos expressed interest in directing Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant money to arm teachers.
This is what happens when we put a charter school millionaire in charge of our public education system.
So much for draining the swamp.
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