by Félix Pérez
Nineteen state attorneys general, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, today sued Education Secretary DeVos for rescinding federal protections designed to hold abusive for-profit colleges and career training programs accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans.
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The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., alleges that DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education violated federal law by abruptly revoking the Borrower Defense Rule, meant to make schools financially responsible for fraud and forbid them from forcing students to resolve complaints outside court. The protections were to have gone into effect July 1, 2017.
Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans. Her decision to cancel vital protections for students and taxpayers is a betrayal of her office’s responsibility and a violation of federal law. We call on Secretary DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education to restore these rules immediately.
The complaint was joined by the attorney generals from Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Healey’s office served on the U.S. Department of Education’s committee that helped develop the Borrower Defense Rule. Under the rule, a successful enforcement action against a school by a state attorney general entitles borrowers to obtain loan forgiveness, and enables the Department of Education to seek repayment of any amounts forgiven from the school.
In May, DeVos announced the department was re-evaluating the Borrower Defense Rule. On June 14, the department announced its intent to delay large portions of the rule without soliciting, receiving or responding to any comment from any stakeholder or member of the public, and without engaging in a public deliberative process. Simultaneously, the department announced its intent to issue a new regulation to replace the rule.
Without the protections of the Borrower Defense Rule, said Healey, many students who are harmed by the misconduct of for-profit schools are unable to seek a remedy in court. The rule limits the ability of schools to require students to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and class action waivers, which are commonly used by for-profit schools to avoid negative publicity and to thwart legal actions by students who have been harmed by schools’ abusive conduct.
In a statement, Utah teacher and National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, said NEA “applauds the decision by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 18 other states to stand up for students.” Eskelsen García added:
It is simply wrong that the Department of Education would want to do away with regulations that would protect students. It is no surprise that these regulations have been strongly opposed by for-profit schools, which have saddled students with crushing debts for college degrees. If that weren’t enough of a burden, some of the degrees provided by these for-profit institutions have failed to prepare students with a viable pathway to getting a good job and are often not even worth the paper on which they’re printed.
In another lawsuit filed today against the Department of Education, the consumer rights advocacy group Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending argue on behalf of two student borrowers that the delay of the Borrower Defense Rule is unlawful.
“Secretary Betsy DeVos has effectively revoked students’ rights under the rule while giving a pass to predatory schools that wield influence with this administration,” said Julie Murray, a Public Citizen attorney representing the plaintiffs.