What the hell is happening at The Department of Education? The kookiest corner of Washington, run by billionaire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has ties to Blackwater and not one — but several — private yachts in her family name, has a lot happening, none of which is a robust interest in defending public education, one of the biggest entitlement programs in the country.
In the last few weeks, Betsy DeVos and her underlings, directed by the Trump administration, have shown the limits of conservative policy-making when they failed to defend their questionably legal, or rather, unquestionably illegal, moves from the auspices of federal judges. In the past few weeks alone, DeVos has been held in contempt in court (more on that later), a DoE official stepped down and called for debt forgiveness (we’ll get into it!) and news broke that DeVos’ DoE rejected almost every single applicant for a loan forgiveness program (for what reason, you ask?) That’s not where the story ends. As the DoE is basically one big reality show, we’re recapping what went down over the past few weeks, so grab your favorite snack and settle in.
A-Plot: Betsy DeVos Held Was Held in Contempt of Court
Heavens to Betsy! This week, a federal judge fined DeVos $100,000 and held her in contempt of court after they found that DeVos had violated a court order to stop collecting loans from defrauded former Corinthian College students — and that DeVos’ DoE had billed 16,000 former students and their parents for funds they no longer owed the federal government.
But how? First of all, DeVos is nothing if not incompetent and evil at the same time, something that is usually fun to watch but also awful. In June of 2018, the DoE was supposed to refund all money borrowed by students to attend Corinthian due to the fact that Corinthian lied about their job placement rates. Instead, the federal government requested those borrowers continue to pay the government. While some borrowers paid up, others had their wages garnished and their tax refunds seized. That’s my favorite functioning government at work!
For her part, DeVos says she really didn’t mean to. She just got the aim of her job/governmental agency responsible for taking care of about 37 million loan borrowers confused.
B-Plot: Wayne Johnson, Federal Student Aid Office Chief, Resigns, Calls His Job Dumb, The System “Fundamentally Broken”
Wayne Johnson, a chief student loan officer at the DoE — not to be confused with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, star of Ballers, — resigned after three years at Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education after being appointed by her. The betrayal — shocking to some — came as a double whammy when Johnson revealed himself to be a leftist agent hellbent on making college *checks notes* uh, affordable? “A college education is valuable to our citizens and it’s valuable to employers, but right now, only the students pay,” Johnson said in his resigning statement. “Employers say they need a better trained workforce. My plan sets forth an easy way to achieve that important goal.” He even called the way we service loans “fundamentally broken,” and I had to double check the script to make sure he wasn’t talking about Betsy DeVos’s brain.
What’s Mr. Johnson doing next, after probably enjoying a few quiet moments where he’s not working for an agency that’s actively defrauding American citizens and loan borrowers? Running for Senate in Georgia on a platform that would effectively cancel all student debt: his plan would cancel up to $50,000 of student debt for any student with federal student debt and a tax credit of $50,000 for those who have already paid their loans. Sweet, free money!
C-Plot: DeVos Gave Away A Cool $11,000,000 to Unaccredited, For-Profit Colleges
Another sweet, extremely ethical, cool thing DeVos got up to that was revealed Tuesday of last week by the House Education and Labor Committee was that her agency misplaced almost $11 million in the mail and sent it to for-profit, unaccredited colleges instead.
What? You ask, bowled over your red wine and popcorn as this saga unfolds like a late-series plotline on Scandal. But yes, indeed: the $10.7 million in federal loans and grants were supposed to be sent to, well, accredited universities, the ones where degrees matter, as is required by the laws of our land. Instead, the Illinois Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Colorado got a boatload of cash that, documents reveal, was sent to help the holding company (Dream Center Education Holdings) of these universities. Help how? By giving them a boatload of education cash protect themselves from punishment for a crime they almost surely committed — lying to students about their accreditation status. Sweet, sweet, sweet. Love an education system I can trust!
Now, DeVos will likely be subpoenaed to see if she played a key role in helping a handful of colleges. If she did, it’s possible she could be in serious legal trouble. Which would make a really interesting C-plot in the series finale of this Hellhole Timeline.
D-Plot: DeVos Rejected, Oh I Don’t Know, 99% Of Applicants for a Loan Forgiveness Program
Picture this: there’s a cool, sweet student loan forgiveness program that, if you work in the public sector after graduating college for a certain amount of time and pay off a certain amount of your loans, you’ll get a large part, if not all, of your student loans forgiven. Sounds good, right?.
But here’s the situation: Last year, Congress expanded that same Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) — which pays down student’s debt when they work in public service — after many borrowers complained they weren’t being helped sufficiently by the program. That expansion poured an extra $700 million in funds into the program and the DoE received 54,000 applications between May 2018 and May of 2019, because, hell yes, this is what our government is supposed to do: reward public work. Do you want to know how many applications they accepted? Do you? Are you sure?
Six hundred and sixty-one. They accepted 661 out of 54,000 applications for loan forgiveness through public service and spent a paltry $27 million out of the $700 million Congress allocated for them. But not only did congress give Betsy DeVos some money, they also told her that the application process had to be simple and easy for borrowers. Instead, the DoE did basically the exact opposite, is limiting the ability of students who entered public service to, you know, get their loans discharged by the federal government. Classic bad guy stuff! Real Dr. Evil energy.
E-Plot: The DoE Trying to Defund a Middle East Studies Program, Silence Anti-Apartheid Voices on Campuses
Nothing says the party of free-speech, academic and political freedom, and unsafe spaces like limiting the ability of students to talk about what they want to talk in the classroom because it might hurt people’s feelings! That’s why the Republican DoE tried to ban any kind of Israel/Palestine discourse, of course.
Indeed, Trump-nominated Kenneth Marcus, the assistant secretary for civil rights, who has historically been critical of speech that is favorable to Palestinians having civil rights, worked hand-in-well-jeweled-hand with DeVos this past month to attempt to cut funding to a Middle Eastern studies program. Yes, Marcus and DeVos are mad that an academic programs — specifically those run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University — has positive things to say about one of the oldest cultures in the world. In fact, at UNC, the program is called “The center for Middle East And Islamic Studies.”
They believe the program is too complimentary towards Islam, the thing the program is centered around. “A considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East,” the DoE statement on the matter reads. It is, indeed, shocking that a school would create their own curriculum on a program that centers around, well, the study of Islam.
The DoE is attempting to hold Title VI funding until the program revises its curriculum and gives the DoE a “detailed breakdown of its spending plans.” As for faculty members at the universities? Yeah, they’re pretty sure that the DoE is just trying to shut down their program.
So, there’s the recap *wipes brow*. Good thing this isn’t a department that looks after the funding of and laws for education in the United States.