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Posts Tagged ‘DeVos’

Flint, Michigan a Canary in the Coal Mine

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

My stomach was churning after reading Erica Green’s article in today’s NYTimes about the Flint, Michigan public schools. The article describes how the school system has become overwhelmed with special education students as a result of the lead contamination in the public water supply, contamination that resulted when cost-cutting business-minded officials took over the governance of the town several years ago. Rather than address the root cause of some of the city’s problems, which would have cost millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades but also created scores of jobs, the State’s overseers decided to privatize the water system. The result was devastating to the residents— particularly the residents who lived in poverty.

As I noted in a comment I left, Michigan’s schools are the fruits of the GOP leadership in the state and a harbinger of where we are headed if we continue down the path of adopting the plan to privatize public services. This article fails to emphasize is that the “problem children” in Flint schools are the result of a political decision to privatize the provision of drinking water to avoid paying for needed infrastructure upgrades.”School choice”– a privatization scheme if there ever was one– segregates “problem children” from those who behave well and play by the rules— the children of parents who can afford to pay for water. The GOP seems happy to live in a world of privatization where the victims of cost-cutting are segregated from those who can pay their way out. This is what the GOP wants when they decry the government and offer free-market “choice” as the solution for clean water, for schools, for health care, for retirement.

Flint is a canary in a coal mine. We would pay heed.

 

While Impeachment Captures Headlines, DeVos Defies Courts, Denies Relief to Debtors, Is Fined

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The entire for-profit post secondary schooling program has been in a shambles for years, a reality that always made it hard for me to understand why either party thought the privatization of public schools would be a good idea. At some juncture near the end of the Obama administration, the Department of Education decided it was time to clamp down on the schools who were bilking students out of money and driving up debt. To show the for profit schools that they meant business, USDOE went to suspended the debts accumulated by students who attended an especially egregious profiteering school, the Corinthian Colleges.  The Trump administration decided to reverse the Obama era’s ruling and re-imposed the debts. The student debtors went to court and the courts mandated that the debts be suspended. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos pushed back, USDOE was held in contempt of court and fined $100,000.

On the day the court made this ruling, Democracy Now reported that the USDOE’s top loan official, A. Wayne Johnson, resigned in disgust and pledged to do whatever it takes to relieve students of over $1,000,000,000,000 in onerous debt. After his resignation, Mr. Johnson told the Wall Street Journal,

We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades. The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.”

The insanity reigns in every department in the US Government as anti-regulatory appointees in each department wreak havoc on consumer protection, environmental protection, and workers rights. And as regulations are slashed, the staffing positions required to enforce those regulations are cut. As science is ignored, civic minded scientists are leaving departments in droves and research on medicine, climate, and nutrition are abandoning positions that remain unfilled. Inevitably, when the budget is put together for the next fiscal year and the ones thereafter, the lost tax revenues will “require” that unfilled staffing positions be cut, that “revenue sources” like student loans be retained, and that cuts that are “making the economy grow” be kept in place. The inevitable result: the rich will get richer and the poor will become intractably mired at the bottom of the economic ladder.

This was a great country when I was growing up. Making it “great again” requires not more de-regulation…. but more help for those who need it.

This Just In: The GOP Wants to Rip-Off Student Borrowers to Help For-Profit Colleges

September 14, 2019 Comments off

You don’t need to pass laws to help your your donors and to disestablish government agencies you don’t believe in. All you need to do is appoint a cabinet member who will revise regulations to minimize the strength of that agency and help your financial backers. And if the regulations can’t be revised, the cabinet member can slow down the process of implementing the regulations or make the process dysfunctional. In the end, the goal of making the government so small it can drown in a bathtub can be accomplished.

If you don’t believe this description of how to make a government agency dysfunctional is accurate, look no further than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. As noted in Adam Minsky’s Forbes article, Betsy DeVos is making a concerted effort to gut the student loan forgiveness program put in place when the Obama administration learned how for-profit schools were preying on unsuspecting students by encouraging them to take out student loans. He writes:

The Borrower Defense to Repayment program was established in 2016 following the high-profile collapse of for-profit schools like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes. The program was enacted to provide student loan relief for borrowers who had been defrauded by predatory schools.

The basic premise of the program is that students who were subjected to rampant fraud or misrepresentations by their  school, and who were saddled with debt and a useless degree, should have a mechanism to request student loan forgiveness. This, coupled with stricter federal oversight of for-profit schools and greater accountability for their educational and career outcomes, would hopefully diminish widespread abuse of federal aid by predatory institutions.

Since DeVos took over the Department of Education in 2017, her administration has made consistent efforts to eliminate or water down the program. The Department of Education initially tried to re-write the regulations governing the program, only to have those new rules thrown out by a federal court following legal challenges. Her office has also been effectively ignoring around 160,000 applications for loan forgiveness submitted by student loan borrowers, leaving them in limbo.

Mr. Minsky’s article then offers a description of the recently released rules that will go into effect, all of which put the burden of proof on the borrower and give the lenders an upper hand. The net effect is the diminishment of protection for students who have been bilked by profiteers. He concludes his article with this:

The chairman of the House education committee, Rep. Bobby Scott, accused the administration of “sending an alarming message [that] schools can cheat student loan borrowers and still reap the rewards of federal student aid.” And the Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that it intends to challenge the new rules in court.

One thing is clear: the Borrower Defense to Repayment program remains embattled and in legal limbo.

One more thing is clear: that “legal limbo” is hurting the pocketbooks of the borrowers at the expense of the shareholders of the private for profit colleges.

Nick Kristof’s Small Bore Replicable Solution to “Intractable” Problem

August 4, 2019 Comments off

Nick Kristof reliably offers unique and creative ideas for addressing seemingly intractable problems, and today’s column in the NYTimes, “A Better Address Can Change a Child’s Future“, is no exception.

In a nutshell, Mr. Kristof suggests that the replication of a small scale program in Seattle that provides low income families with a voucher to move into an affluent community is a viable means of helping low income families improve the opportunities for their children… and he offers evidence to support that idea. After reading the column, I offered the following comment:

Too bad the term “voucher” is used because it is associated with Milton Friedman and Betsy DeVos. But the concept of providing poverty stricken families with access to affluent zip codes makes sense and doing it on a case-by-case basis is far more feasible politically than trying to change the zoning laws in those wealthy enclaves to allow affordable housing. This is an instance where the idea of vouchers makes a lot of sense.

Upshot Article Oversimplifies “Solution” to Complicated Problem Congress Created

July 31, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Upshot writer Kevin Carey written on July 24 titled “It’s Easy to Forget, but a Program to Forgive Student Loans Already Exists“. There are two problems with the article from my perspective.

First, the “program to forgive student loans” is so convoluted that it’s “existence” is arguable. Contrary to the sub-headline that reads, “Democrats are campaigning to fix an issue that is already starting to resolve itself for many teachers and other public servants“, the article describes an issue that desperately needs to be fixed because the laws underpinning it were ill-conceived, allowed only five days for the initial application process, and changed directions several times over the course of time.  

Second, and most importantly, the implementation was botched because Congress failed to provide the funds needed to provide the staff required to make the implementation possible. Here are the most telling paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s article:

“(The borrowers) needed some good advice. Whom would they call? Not the Department of Education, which subcontracts the work of helping borrowers to “loan servicing companies”. Unfortunately, the servicers didn’t prove up to the task.

Loan servicers are paid a flat rate per borrower for processing loan payments and helping people navigate the repayment process. That means that the more time and effort a borrower requires, the less money the servicer makes. Someone who sets up an automatic debit from a checking account and never picks up the phone is a source of profits. Borrowers who need a lot of time-consuming assistance to ensure that their job, their loan and their repayment plan are all eligible for the forgiveness program are a financial liability.

The results were predictable. In June 2017, a few months before the first public servants were (theoretically) eligible for loan forgiveness, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report describing the many ways loan servicers were messing things up.

This sums up the whole problem with government today: it is understaffed and therefore incapable of functioning effectively. Taxpayers want the government to come up with a FAST, CHEAP solution to complicated problems and to run like a business. As Mr. Carey explains later in the article, when USDOE outsourced their work to “loan servicing companies” they operated like a business and got a FAST and CHEAP “solution” to the complicated problem Congress created… a “solution” that padded the wallets of the “loan servicing companies” but left the borrowers high and dry…. and “proved” that government is the problem. The headline to this should read: “It’s Easy to Forget that an Effective Government Requires Bureaucrats”….

Mr. Carey concludes his article with evidence that more and more borrowers are becoming eligible, and seems to think that since the percentage of approved borrowers has increased the problem is taking care of itself. After reading the article and looking at the daunting amount the government is on the hook for, I’m not confident that there will be sufficient funds available to honor the promises they made to public employees— especially since the current administration is intent on keeping its promises to the billionaires and shareholders who received massive tax breaks.

In “Dog Bites Man” Article, NYTimes Illustrates USDOE’s Complicity in Sustaining a Failing For-Profit College

July 24, 2019 Comments off

If you want to see how the US Department of Education’s tilt in favor of for profit education institutions works, read Erica Green and Stacy Cowley’s thoroughly researched NYTimes article titled “Emails Show DeVos Aides Pulled Strings for Failing Colleges“. The article offers evidence that USDOE officials conspired with officials at Dream Center Education Holdings, a subsidiary of a Los Angeles-based megachurch, when they continued to use misleading and dishonest advertising in an effort to keep their institution alive. Because the USDOE failed to act when Dream Center was clearly bankrupt both financially and educationally, US taxpayers and– most sadly– Dream Center students are on the hook for millions of dollars.

Here’s what I find to be most infuriating about this whole episode: the complicated inter-relationships between accreditors, the USDOE officials, and USDOE regulations make it very difficult to explain what happened in a way that is readily understandable. Consequently, when this kind of issue surfaces, there is no easy fix and politicians are left to point fingers at each other and voters often take sides based on their faith in one side or another or one economic theory or another. The only clear losers in all of this are the former students of Dream Center schools who lost money out of the pockets to take the courses or face the demand to pay debts for courses that led them no where. For those who see privatization and deregulation as the best way forward, this might not be a problem. Their mantra— caveat emptor— means that the students “got what they deserved” by enrolling in a failing institution. The only problem with that line of thinking is that the government who serves as the quality control gatekeeper knowingly allowed a failing institution to advertise itself as “accredited”. The government that was complicit in misleading the consumers should pay the price… not the consumers who thought they were enrolling in a government approved institution.

LATimes Offers Good Overview of Disintegration of Desegregation

July 9, 2019 Comments off

Today’s LATimes article (link below) describes the slow erosion of efforts to integrate public schools and the predictable result: schools across the country are more integrated now than ever. The takeaway from the article is that no one running for President seems willing to make the issue a centerpiece of their campaign and so it is unlikely to be solved unless some billionaires decide to make racial and economic justice their cause. apple.news/AcpfFBC92RjePQvKusOVMOQ