Attorneys general sue DeVos over delay of rule to protect students from predatory colleges – Washington Post
Updated with a response from the Education Department.
A group of 19 state attorneys general is suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for delaying an overhaul of rules to erase the federal student debt of borrowers defrauded by colleges.
“With no notice, with no opportunity for comment … the DeVos team is trying to cancel this rule,” Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who is leading the lawsuit, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “It is important that we take action where we see activity by the federal government, Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education, that is unsustainable, unfair and illegal.”
The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, accuses the Education Department of violating federal law by halting updates to a regulation known as the borrower defense to repayment. The rule, which dates to the 1990s, wipes away federal loans for students whose colleges used illegal or deceptive tactics to get them to borrow money to attend. The Obama administration revised it last year to simplify the claims process and shift more of the cost of discharging loans onto schools.
Before the changes could take effect July 1, DeVos suspended them last month and said she would convene a new rulemaking committee to rewrite the borrower defense regulation, reviving a process that took nearly two years to complete. Proponents of the revised rule were livid that DeVos made a unilateral decision without soliciting or receiving input from stakeholders or the public.
Education spokeswoman Liz Hill said, “With this ideologically driven suit, the state attorneys general are saying to regulate first, and ask the legal questions later—which also seems to be the approach of the prior administration that adopted borrower-defense regulations through a heavily politicized process and failed to account for the interests of all stakeholders.”
The state attorneys case could be bolstered by an appeals court ruling Monday striking down the Environmental Protection Agency’s suspension of new emission standards on oil and gas wells. The EPA used similar reasoning as the Education Department in delaying the regulation, but the court said that while the agency could reconsider the rule, it could not delay the effective date while seeking to rewrite the statute.
DeVos said the delay was necessary as the department fought a federal lawsuit by a group of for-profit colleges in California seeking to block the rules. State attorneys general, including those from Maryland, Virginia and the District, argue in their lawsuit that the case is “a mere pretext for repealing the rule and replacing it with a new rule that will remove or dilute student rights and protections.” Many of those same attorneys were involved in a motion last month to intervene in the California lawsuit to prevent the rules from being blocked.
Hill argues that the California case “makes serious and credible charges” that the regulations exceed the department’s authority, violated a federal arbitration law and denied schools due process.
“The department cannot simply dismiss these allegations,” Hill said.
In a separate but related case, Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending also filed suit Thursday against DeVos for blocking the defense rule. The consumer groups are suing on behalf of former students of the for-profit New England Institute of Art in Brookline, Mass., who previously filed a motion to intervene in the California lawsuit to block the rule.