Tag Archives: Betsy DeVos

The Disaster That Is Betsy DeVos

There’s a reason that living under the Trump Administration is so exhausting;  citizens don’t know where to look first. We wake every morning with the same question: which of Trump’s incompetent/corrupt Cabinet members is doing the most damage today?

The EPA is headed by a former coal lobbyist who is busy eviscerating environmental protections. The  Secretary of the Treasury is refusing to honor a request for Trump’s taxes, despite a statute that specifically requires him to do so. At Commerce, Wilbur Ross was (fortunately) too incompetent to follow the rules for adding questions to the Census. Mike Pompeo is using the State Department to further fundamentalist Christian interests. Alex Acosta has joined the exodus of Trump Administration officials ousted for improper/corrupt behaviors….

And speaking of corrupt, don’t get me started about William Barr.

However, we can’t allow these scandals to obscure Betsy DeVos and her continuing effort to cripple the Department of Education and sabotage public education.

Recently, DeVos installed Diane Jones, a veteran of “for-profit organizations that operate low-quality education programs,” as chief architect of her education policy.

“President Trump’s Department of Education is stacked with former for-profit executives whose companies got rich by ripping students off,” said Charisma L. Troiano, the press secretary for Democracy Forward, a government watchdog organization that has accused Ms. Jones of several conflicts of interest. “For decades, Diane Auer Jones has advocated for this predatory industry.” (Link unavailable)

DeVos  is the first Secretary of Education to come to that post having zero experience with public schools. She has never worked in a public school, has never been a teacher, a school administrator, nor a member of a public board of education. Not only that, she didn’t attend public schools herself, and she didn’t send her children to public schools. In Michigan, she’d been an implacable foe of public education and a generous funder of vouchers and for-profit charters.

When she was nominated for the position, the Washington Post ran an article titled “A sobering look at what Betsy DeVos did to education in Michigan.” It documented the troubling decline in student achievement in the private and religious schools she supported.

Her confirmation hearings were a disaster, revealing her monumental ignorance of DOE’s mission and legal responsibilities, and lack of familiarity with important education policies. It took Mike Pence’s vote to confirm her–the first time in history a Vice-President had to cast a deciding vote for a cabinet nominee.

And what has she done since she was (barely) confirmed?

  • rolled back protections for transgendered students.
  • proposed a nine billion dollar cut in education funding
  • repealed federal protections against predatory for-profit colleges
  • rescinded college-level sexual assault guidelines
  • stripped DOE employees of collective bargaining rights
  • endorsed a plan to place guns in schools, and to purchase them with federal grant money intended for academics and student enrichment
  • eviscerated the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows public workers to apply for forgiveness of their student loans after 10 years of service and on-time loan payments.
  • pushed to expand federal vouchers by $50 billion dollars over ten years
  • refused–and  continues to refuse–to enforce laws requiring that federally funded services be provided only by public employees or by contractors independent of private schools and religious organizations. (It is unprecedented for a federal agency to announce it won’t enforce the law as written.)

There’s more at the link.

Even if Democrats sweep this abysmal crew out in the 2020 elections, it will take decades to repair the damage.

It turns out that handing the government over to people who know absolutely nothing–either about government in general or the work they are being asked to do in particular–is a really bad idea.

It’s Only Money…

There have been some truly jaw-dropping revelations coming from recent Congressional hearings–but most have been overshadowed by the continuing dramas of Trump’s refusal to produce documents demanded by Congress and Barr’s evident fabrications about the Mueller Report.

This one is particularly maddening, if only because allowing clueless Betsy DeVos to run anything–let alone the Department of Education–is infuriating.

In this article in Common Dreams, Jeff Bryant offers one particular example of DeVos’ overwhelming incapacity:

During a series of recent congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to respond to a recent report finding the U.S. Department of Education has been scammed for hundreds of millions of dollars by fraudulent or mismanaged charter schools. Her responses reveal not only her inability to counter legitimate concerns over the spread of charter schools but also the charter school industry’s resistance to honestly address a chronic problem with its schools.

The report, which I co-authored with Network for Public Education Executive Director Carol Burris, found that up to $1 billion awarded by the federal government’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) went to charter schools that never opened or opened for only brief periods before being shut down for mismanagement, poor performance, lack of enrollment, and fraud. Our calculation was that a least a third of the $4.1 billion spent by the CSP was wasted.

Members of Congress repeatedly referred to these findings when questioning the secretary’s management of charter school grants and her proposal to increase funding for the program to $500 million annually. In response, DeVos first attempted to deny the problem, saying, “You are always going to have schools that don’t make it.”

When her “some schools won’t make it” excuse didn’t seem to convince those doing the questioning, DeVos insisted that the country needs “more charter schools, not less.” And when she was unable to explain her department’s obvious inability to properly monitor the charter grant program, she attacked the authors of the report, claiming that they had a “political agenda.” (She was also unable to provide any evidence that their conclusions were inaccurate.)

Following the hearing at which the monetary losses were explored, the Network for Public Education wrote an open letter to DeVos, in which they pointed out that 250 charter schools in DeVos home state of Michigan had received grant money between 2006 and 2014, and that 109 of those–or 42%–had either closed or never opened, wasting more than $20 million dollars. Despite this abysmal result,  DeVos’ DOE gave Michigan $47,222,222 in 2018 for the express purpose of starting up or expanding charters.

It isn’t only Michigan.

In Ohio, of the roughly 290 charter schools that received federal grants from the CSP during the same time period, 117 schools, 40 percent, also never opened or are now closed. The amount of waste to taxpayers totals $35,926,693.

In Louisiana, 51 of the 110 charter schools, 46 percent, that received funding through the CSP failed.

In California, of the more than 780 charter schools that received grant funds, 297 schools, 38 percent, closed or never opened, resulting in $103,467,332 in wasted education funds.

In Florida, of the some 500 schools getting federal grants, 184 schools, 36 percent, never opened or closed, representing a loss of $34,781,736 in lost federal tax dollars.

It is only fair to point out that this is not evidence that charter schools are all substandard or fraudulent. There are plenty of perfectly good charters, just as there are (propaganda to the contrary) plenty of perfectly good public schools. The data tends to show that overall, charters (which are public schools) perform pretty much the way traditional public schools perform.

Private schools that accept vouchers are another matter.

What this situation does unequivocally demonstrate is that, under Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has abandoned oversight, thanks largely to her cozy relationship with for-profit “educators” and her fixation on privatizing  public education.

Under DeVos, DOE is wasting billions of dollars that could be used to actually improve public education.

Her protector and fellow ideologue, Mike Pence, must be so proud…..

 

File Under: From Your Mouth To God’s Ears

When someone made a positive prediction in her presence, my grandmother would employ a favorite  “go to” phrase: “from your mouth to God’s ears!” It was her way of saying she certainly hoped that whatever was being predicted would turn out to be true.

Grandma has been gone for quite some time, but that phrase was the first thing that popped into my head when I read this report from Politico.

As many as five Democratic-led House committees next year could take on DeVos over a range of issues such as her rollback of regulations aimed at predatory for-profit colleges, the stalled processing of student loan forgiveness and a rewrite of campus sexual assault policies.

“Betsy DeVos has brought a special mix of incompetence and malevolence to Washington — and that’s rocket fuel for every committee in a new Congress that will finally provide oversight,” said Seth Frotman, who resigned as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s top student loan official earlier in protest of Trump administration policies likely to be examined by Democrats.

In any other administration, DeVos’ “special mix of incompetence and malevolence” would have garnered far more media attention. Trumpworld, however, has such a monumental amount of both that she has had to share that attention with others in the abysmal cohort comprising our nation’s current administration.

Among the incoming committee chairs antagonistic to DeVos is Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). She’s in line to lead the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing education funding, and–like the other incoming chairs identified in the article–she’s coming to the job with her sights firmly set on DeVos.

The panel’s oversight work, DeLauro said, will focus on ways to “hold Secretary DeVos accountable for her agency’s failure to uphold federal protections for our students.”

DeLauro called DeVos’ record on student debt issues “appalling,” citing the administration’s moves to eliminate Obama-era rules meant to cut off funding to low-performing colleges and make it easier for defrauded borrowers to obtain loan forgiveness.

“I will make sure Secretary DeVos knows Americans want her to protect students and veterans, not the for-profit school industry,” she said.

Maxine Waters will head the Financial Services Committee; earlier this month she accused DeVos of a “full-on attack on civil rights protections for students—particularly students of color, students with disabilities, transgender students, and survivors of sexual assault.”

A number of watchdog groups have brought lawsuits that can serve as agendas for these committees:

Groups like American Oversight, National Student Legal Defense Network and Democracy Forward have all filed multiple lawsuits against the department — many focusing on its ties to the for-profit education industry.

“We are certainly hopeful that the Department of Education will cooperate with the incoming Democratic chairs’ oversight requests,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network, which published a list of oversight topics for Democrats to take on after the election. “However, given this administration’s track record when it comes to following the law, it would not be surprising if Congress has to use subpoenas to get any useful information.”

Trump’s cabinet–with a combined net worth estimated at $14 Billion–is filled with appointees chosen mainly for their deep antagonism to the missions of the agencies they head. (Total ignorance of the matters under the agencies’ jurisdiction is a plus.) But even in that pathetic assembly, DeVos stands out.

Hostility to public education? Check. Lack of even the slightest understanding of education policy debates? Check. Devotion to her fellow plutocrats who are making fortunes by ripping off students and taxpayers? Check. Total lack of respect, regard or concern for the students DOE supposedly serves? Check.

When Politico’s mouth gets to God’s ears, bring popcorn.

 

Putting Profits Before People

It is really, really difficult to mount effective opposition to even the stupidest, craziest policies of the Trump Administration, because there are so many of them. From the environment to the social safety net to the rule of law, the attacks just keep coming.

So if you haven’t heard about the variety of ways in which Betsy DeVos is protecting her for-profit pals while screwing over taxpayers, students and public schools, that’s unfortunate but entirely understandable.

Lest Betsy get buried in this administration’s growing mountain of excrement, let me share one  decision that highlights her priorities–priorities that perfectly align with those of her fellow Trumpian plutocrats.

Courtesy of the Brookings Institution, we learn

On a Friday in mid-August, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos quietly announced that she would abolish the Obama administration’s gainful employment (GE) regulation–a safeguard that protected students from for-profit career programs that left graduates with poor job prospects and unmanageable student debt.

Her decision means that hundreds of thousands of our nation’s students–chiefly minority students, single moms, veterans, dislocated workers, and working adults–will now be trapped in low-performing for-profit programs and burdened with unaffordable and often life-limiting debts. Her regulatory rollback marks a betrayal not only of our nation’s most vulnerable students, but an abandonment of traditional conservative principles about institutional accountability for taxpayer dollars.

You have to read this jaw-dropping description of how the Department of Education “oversees” for-profit institutions to see just how far this purportedly “conservative” administration has strayed from what used to be bedrock conservative dogma.

To see just how extreme Secretary DeVos’s departure is from conservative principles, we ask this litmus test question: What would it take for a career education program to lose its eligibility for federal student aid under Secretary DeVos’s plan? The answer: A for-profit institution cannot lose its financial lifeline, no matter how poorly it performs its statutory mission to train students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. One hundred percent of students can drop out of their career program, or not a single graduate could land a job in their field of training, and still the federal government would be willing to keep the taxpayer money pipeline of federal student loans and Pell Grants flowing unabated to the school. It’s a federal free-money plan—“accountability” stripped of consequences.

When I characterize DeVos’ approach as a departure–a U turn!– from what used to be GOP orthodoxy, I’m not exaggerating. In my wildest imagination, I never thought I would point to Bill Bennett–a blowhard I detested–as an example of “doing it right.” (But then, I wouldn’t have believed that I would look back at George W. Bush with something close to fondness, either…)

Bennett, as most of you probably remember, headed up DOE under Saint Ronald Reagan.

When he realized that numerous for-profit colleges were performing abysmally, he proposed new regulations that forced more than 2,000 postsecondary institutions to immediately face a hearing to determine whether their default rate on federal student loans was over 20%. If it was, their participation in federal student aid programs was limited, suspended, or terminated. Bennett especially blasted shoddy trade school programs, calling their “pattern of abuses” “an outrage.”

Then there was Lamar Alexander, also a Republican. He spearheaded the 1992 amendments to the Higher Education Act (HEA), under which postsecondary institutions lost their eligibility for federal student aid if their student default rates exceeded 25 percent for three consecutive years. By 2000, more than a thousand postsecondary schools lost their eligibility–and more than 80% of them were for-profit.

When a political party reverses its longstanding position on an issue, the obvious question is why.

The first and most important cause of the Republican retreat from accountability is the growing power of the for-profit college lobby. By 2005, the eight largest for-profit college chains had a combined market value of $26 billion. For-profit colleges, which always had aggressive lobbying operations, started donating much more money to congressional representatives and switched more of their giving from Democrats to Republican lawmakers. When the Obama administration released its final GE rule, the for-profit lobby donated twice as much to Republican lawmakers ($1.17 million) as to Democratic lawmakers ($583,000).

You really need to read the entire report. And weep.

For-Profit Education Is About Profit, Not Education

It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that Betsy DeVos is a fan of for-profit colleges. After all, she has championed voucher programs that take funding from public schools and send it to private ones, many of which are run or managed as for-profit enterprises. Unfortunately, her support is not shaken either by the data rebutting the belief that such schools actually provide an education (let alone a superior education), or by the documented fraudulent behavior of for-profit “colleges.”

The New York Times editorial board recently weighed in on DeVos’ roll-back of efforts to protect college students against that fraud.

Say this for Betsy DeVos: The secretary of education has shown an impressive commitment to rescuing her friends in the for-profit college business from pesky measures to rein in their predatory behavior. As pet projects go, it lacks the sulfurous originality of her emerging idea to let states use federal dollars to put guns in schools. But it is a scandal nonetheless. Given the choice between protecting low-income students — and, by extension, American taxpayers — and facilitating the buck-raking of a scandal-ridden industry, Ms. DeVos aggressively pursues Option B.

The Obama-era regulations basically required “truth in advertising.” If too many students at the for-profit school racked up massive student debt–financed, after-all, by We the Taxpayers– and then were unable to qualify for decent jobs, and if the ratio of such failures exceeded a certain level for two out of three years, those schools became ineligible to receive taxpayer-backed loans and grants. The regulation also required for-profit programs to include whether or not they meet federal job-placement standards in their promotional materials.

DeVos said the regulation unfairly targeted for-profit schools, even though–as the Times reported-

A recent review of “borrower defense claims” — requests for loan relief filed with the Education Department by students asserting they were defrauded or misled by their schools — found that almost 99 percent involved for-profit institutions.

There is, in fact, plenty of evidence that for-profit educational institutions are much more interested in profit than in education. DeVos herself doesn’t seem very educated about data, education or the department she presumably runs. Nor is she winning many converts.

A federal court has ruled against her effort to delay implementation of the Obama rules, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.” And California just became the first state in the nation to ban for-profit charter schools. The law was inspired by a newspaper investigation confirming allegations of profiteering at the expense of children’s educations. For-profit charter schools currently operating in California “must convert to non-profit management prior to each school’s renewal deadline.”

Although I absolutely support both the regulations DeVos is attacking and California’s  requirement that for-profit institutions become nonprofit,  the problem isn’t limited to institutions that are organized as private, for-profit enterprises. Any business lawyer can explain the ways in which the line between for-profit and non-profit can be blurred. Create a corporation to provide an arguably publicly- beneficial purpose, and distribute what would otherwise be “profits” as salaries, and voila! (Take a look at some of your local “nonprofit” hospitals…)

And that brings me to Purdue University’s recent acquisition of Kaplan University, a for-profit enterprise now re-branded as public.  I think the Century Foundation got it right, when it charged that Purdue University Global Is a For-Profit College Masquerading as a Public University.

In April, the for-profit Kaplan University officially became an arm of Indiana’s public university system. With its new home and new name, Purdue University Global is the first public university to share control with a for-profit company answerable to investors. When the deal was announced last year, Purdue’s president said that critics of for-profit colleges “should be happy” that Purdue was turning Kaplan into a public rather than for-profit institution. Critics, however, wondered whether the for-profit company’s large ongoing role meant, instead, that Kaplan’s history of predatory practices would simply re-emerge under a “public” moniker.

One answer to that question arrived last week, when Purdue faculty members revealed that the online school is requiring instructors to sign a four-page nondisclosure agreement. The pledge, required for Purdue Global employees, prohibits professors and staff from discussing anything they know about the university’s operations with anyone else, including their colleagues (unless those people already have access to the information). Officials at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) describe the pledge as “unprecedented for a public, non-profit university” and “breathtakingly inappropriate in higher education.”

Now, The Century Foundation has new documents showing that predatory practices at Purdue Global were baked into the plan from the very beginning.

Those documents–described in detail at the linked article–reveal a number of ways in which Purdue Global was designed to be much more of a for-profit college obligated to its investors than a public institution serving students.

I am a big believer in markets, profits, and capitalism…in the economic sectors where markets and profits are appropriate. Education is not one of those sectors.

Rather than strengthening performance of education’s public function, rather than recognizing the critically important role of education in producing a literate and informed polity, the Republicans running our government–and the Republican running Purdue University–are elevating profit over purpose, and moving us in precisely the wrong direction.