Our Opinion: Healey, AGs fight DeVos' anti-student agenda

As U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos' most important constituency would seem to be students. There has been little indication that she sees it that way, however, and the latest evidence is her imposition of a delay on implementing an Obama-era policy that would provide needed loan protections to students enrolled in for-profit educational institutions. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is taking the lead in protecting that policy.

Last Thursday, Ms. Healey led a coalition of 19 state attorneys general in a lawsuit against the education secretary's delay, claiming that, "Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans." The Borrower Defense Rule that Ms. DeVos is blocking would allow, among other remedies, students to obtain loan forgiveness if a for-profit institution was shown to be predatory or deficient in delivering the education it promised. Also, the Rule would limit the ability of schools to require students to sign away their right to seek redress in court — a standard industry practice.

Ms. DeVos, the first cabinet nominee ever to have needed a tie-breaking vice presidential vote for Senate confirmation, has made no secret of her conviction that privatization is the solution to educational excellence. A corollary to her reasoning is that government education dollars are more effectively spent on alternatives to publicly-funded schooling, i.e. charter and faith-based schools. Her personal family foundation has given millions to such institutions, which proves that she is more than willing to invest her own resources to promote a philosophy in which she deeply believes.

While Ms. DeVos is entitled to her beliefs, they undermine the mission of the department she heads, which is to facilitate, foster and create policy for public education. As a cabinet secretary confirmed by the Senate, she enjoys the prerogative to make her own mark upon such policy, but it is not within her official purview to bend over backward to protect the for-profit education industry she favors by arbitrarily suspending the enactment of settled policy. Indeed, her argument for delaying the Borrower Defense Rule is unsustainably thin, as Ms. Healey asserts. It is based upon pending litigation by the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools that challenges the Rule, a lawsuit that Ms. DeVos contends must be settled before that policy can be implemented. Ms. Healey and her fellow A.G.s, in their brief, rightly use the term "pretext" in describing this pending suit as the reason for Ms. DeVos' delay.

Ms. Healey has worked with educational leaders, experts and students over a two-year period to craft and negotiate the outcome of the original Rule. It must particularly galling, therefore, for her to see her hard work neutered unilaterally and without public input by a government official who lacks any credible basis for her action. The fact that Ms. Healey has managed to rally so many of her counterparts in other states to her banner is testimony to the worthiness of her cause, which we hope is rewarded in court.


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