DeVos plan on student fraud claims contains errors, group says

 In Politics

With help from Mel Leonor and Benjamin Wermund

DEVOS PLAN ON STUDENT LOAN FRAUD CLAIMS CONTAINS ERRORS, GROUP SAYS: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ proposal to rein in federal loan forgiveness for defrauded students contains inaccurate statements about how the Education Department previously handled fraud claims, according to a consumer advocacy group. Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Lending says that emails and documents show that the Trump administration erroneously described how the department processed student fraud claims during the last two decades.

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The Trump administration’s proposal, released last week, says it may require that borrowers default on their loans and face a collections action (like wage garnishment) before they’re allowed to apply for debt relief. Limiting the program to only those “defensive” claims, the administration said, would protect taxpayers and return to the department’s original practice that “persisted for 20 years.”

— Trump administration officials said it was the Obama administration in 2015 that upended longstanding department practice by allowing borrowers for the first time to make “affirmative” claims, meaning claims made outside of a collections proceeding. An official who briefed reporters on the proposal last week similarly said that the department only entertained “defensive” claims prior to 2015.

— But that’s not true, according to the Project on Predatory Student Lending. On Thursday, the group submitted a slew of department documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, that show how officials processed claims during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. The documents show that Between 1998 and 2015, the department approved loan discharges of borrowers based on “affirmative” claims, according to the documents made to the department.

— “I’m accustomed to the department taking positions that are intellectually dishonest, but this is just plain dishonest,” Eileen Connor, the project’s director of litigation, told Morning Education. “Can they rewrite a regulation? Yes. Can they rewrite history? No.”

— Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in an email that “we aren’t going to comment on comments on the [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] during the open comment period.”

— Requiring borrowers to default on their loans before filing a fraud claim is among the most controversial parts of DeVos’ proposal. It has drawn some criticism from conservatives who have generally applauded the administration’s effort to reduce federal spending on loan forgiveness. Preston Cooper of the American Enterprise Institute wrote that the provision was an “inane requirement” that sullied “otherwise sensible reforms” that DeVos proposed.

— The bigger picture — Why it matters: DeVos’ final regulations on student loan fraud claims will almost certainly face a legal challenge from Democratic state attorneys general and consumer groups. Critics of the policy will likely have to make the case not just that they don’t like the policy but that it also was the product of a flawed decision-making process — and any errors could help fuel those arguments.

— The Project on Predatory Student Lending is currently suing DeVos over her delay of the Obama-era regulations governing student loan forgiveness. And earlier this year it separately won a preliminary injunction that’s blocking the Trump administration from carrying out its policy of providing partial loan forgiveness to some defrauded students. The Trump administration has appealed that order.

GOOD FRIDAY MORNING AND WELCOME TO MORNING EDUCATION. Drop me a line with your tips and feedback: [email protected] or @mstratford. Share event listings: [email protected] And follow us on Twitter: @Morning_Edu and @POLITICOPro.

HOW A LAWSUIT AGAINST OREGON STATE COULD CHALLENGE DEVOS’ TITLE IX RULES: An Oregon State University student who alleges she was raped by a university football player is suing the school, arguing its demands that she keep away from him amount to the school punishing the victim. The order meant it was up to her to avoid parts of campus when he was around — or face disciplinary action, according to the lawsuit. It’s a legal battle that could end up posing the latest legal challenge to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempts to balance the rights of victims and the accused in campus sexual assault cases. Benjamin Wermund has the full story.

Advocates say DeVos has essentially given the green light to schools to keep doling out mutual no-contact orders as she has rewritten the rules for handling allegations of harassment and assault. The Trump administration has urged universities to do more to balance both sides in such cases after DeVos scrapped Obama-era Title IX rules that she said “failed too many students.”

“Schools are unjustifiably imposing orders against victims of sexual misconduct to limit their access to education counter to the very protections Title IX guarantees them,” said Laura Dunn, a prominent Title IX activist who is representing the student in the Oregon State case. She said the Trump administration’s Title IX guidance supports these types of orders and “encourages schools to favor those accused over Title IX’s requirement to protect the victim.” DeVos has said her goal is to balance survivors’ rights with the rights of the accused, not favor one over the other.

Advocates argue such orders can have a major chilling effect on students reporting when they’re assaulted. And they say schools do actually enforce them. Brenda Adams, an attorney at Equal Rights Advocates, said she’s had multiple clients who have been accused of violating the no-contact orders and faced their own disciplinary investigations. “The only reason they’re being issued against a victim is because she reported,” Adams said. “Then what you have is all of these women regretting that they ever came forward … They feel like they’ve done something wrong when literally all they’ve done is report to their school and seek safety.”

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