By Mary Ellen Flannery
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her pro-privatization, anti-student agenda received a big rebuke on Wednesday, when a bipartisan majority of Senators voted to block DeVos’ efforts to gut protections for student borrowers and taxpayers in her revision of the 30-year-old “borrower defense” rule.
“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate is a victory for students and shows, once again, just how out of touch Betsy DeVos’s agenda is with the American people,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
On Wednesday, 10 Republican Senators joined Democratic Senators in voting 53 to 42 for S.J. Res. 56, which overturns the Department of Education’s revision of the 2019 Borrower Defense to Repayment rule. This rule enables students who have been defrauded by predatory, for-profit colleges to get relief from the federal government, in the form of loan cancellation or forgiveness.
As originally written, the rule could be a lifesaver for the hundreds of thousands of students who were lured by false promises of degrees and jobs, and left holding mountains of federal student loan debt when massive, for-profit colleges, like Corinthian Colleges in 2014, collapsed and closed their doors.
“These students were basically defrauded,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who introduced the resolution. “These schools take the money and run, and the students end up holding the bag, with massive debts.” On Wednesday morning, he called on Senators to give former, for-profit students “a fighting chance to rebuild their lives.”
Currently more than 300,000 students have filed borrower-defense claims with the Department of Education, but federal officials have been slow to process those claims, in some cases making students wait for years. In October, DeVos was held in contempt of court for violating a 2018 court order to stop collecting on the debts of students who went to Corinthian, in some cases going so far as to garnish their wages.
In January, the House of Representatives passed a similar measure by a vote of 231 to 180, making clear “we care more about defending defrauded students than enriching predatory schools,” said U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV). Now, educators are urging President Trump to follow the majority in Congress by signing the legislation when it reaches his desk.
NEA has strongly supported the existing protections, and gone on record many times in fierce opposition to DeVos’ revisions to borrower defense. “Rather than safeguarding students, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is choosing to…protect unscrupulous colleges,” wrote Marc Egan, director of NEA government relations, in a February letter to Senators.
“The DeVos rule is especially cruel considering that those who are most vulnerable to targeting by these predatory institutions include veterans, older students, students of color, disabled students, and students who are the first in their families to attend college.”
These students include people like Army veteran Tasha Berkhalter, who spent five years in college and borrowed $100,000 to pay for a near-worthless degree from ITT Technical, a giant for-profit university that went belly up in 2016.
“Whenever I told an employer at job interviews where I went, I was shown the door,” Berkhalter said at a press conference last month.