On Monday, federal judge Sallie Kim lost patience with what can only be described as the Education Department’s foot-dragging on carrying out an order to stop collecting on loans made to former students at Corinthian Colleges. That dodgy for-profit institution of higher learning went out of business in 2015 amid widespread claims that officials lied to students about everything from graduation rates to job placement statistics.
The Corinthian lawsuit revolves around Education Department rules that allow students who believe they were defrauded by their college to petition for the government to dismiss their loan. DeVos considers this tantamount to “free money” (unlike, say, the millions and millions of dollars she inherited) and has tried to limit the amount of people eligible for relief as a result of the closure of Corinthian any way she possibly can.
In this particular case, the Education Department attempted to deny payments based on a comparison of students’ earnings with those who attended similar programs — data that came by way of revealing borrowers’ personal identifying information, including Social Security numbers, with the Social Security Administration. Kim put a stop to that in early 2018, saying it violated federal privacy statutes.
Despite that ruling, the department continued to try to collect the money owed from a large number of people, docking paychecks and confiscating tax refunds. On Monday, a lawyer attempted to pass the buck, claiming it was “surprised” to learn how the student loan servicers bungled the judge’s order.
There’s a problem: Student loan processors have loads of what the department described as “noncompliance issues.” So it’s no surprise that Kim apparently did not find the department’s excuse credible. A furious Kim told Education Department officials: “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability,” adding “there have to be some consequences.” She followed up Tuesday with a written order noting that she was considering fines or contempt — but no mention of jail — adding she was “deeply disturbed” by “the sheer scale of the violations” of the Education Department.
Good for Kim! Making life miserable for people seeking a chance to get ahead is all but an official policy of DeVos’s Education Department. There’s the utter and complete failure to honor the promise of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, while the company at the center of the public loan service forgiveness debacle has multiple ties to the education secretary and others in the Trump administration. DeVos, who attended private school and chose the same path for her own children, backed tax credits for those who enroll their children in independent schools, while trying to cut back programs that pay for after-school programs and books for low-income kids. She even supported an attempt by the Trump administration to ax federal money for the Special Olympics. All of this is of a piece with the Trump administration, which is seeking to punish anyone who needs a helping hand, is attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and is making it harder for people to access programs ranging from Medicaid to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) credits for food.
DeVos is taking steps to make sure she isn’t put in this position again. Last month, the administration released a revamped version of the rules at issue in the Corinthian case, making it harder for future filers to prove they were the victims of predatory colleges that lied to them when persuading them to enroll, forcing them to prove they suffered financial damage as a result of the fraud and shortening the period of time they have to file a claim. All in all, DeVos once again earns my nod for the worst, most horrible member of Trump’s Cabinet. It’s tough competition, but DeVos once again soars to the top of the list.