Federal teachers' union sues Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for repeal of student protections

The American Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for her repeal of Obama-era regulations designed to hold for-profit colleges and universities accountable to their students.

The AFT accused DeVos of violating the law to repeal protections for students at for-profit colleges, and it argues that the regulations have the potential to save taxpayers over $5 billion on money going toward failing programs, according to the complaint.

“The reason that we filed this lawsuit, the reason that the attorneys general throughout the country are doing this, is to stop the rollback of oversight of these for-profits and others,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said. “We’re trying to stop unscrupulous behavior defrauding overpromising and underdelivering.”

In 2014, the Department of Education enacted the Gainful Employment Rule, which required colleges and universities to maintain a certain student debt-to-earning ratio and effectively denied for-profit colleges from receiving federal aid under the Higher Education Act Title IV student assistance programs. The rule also makes schools disclose information about their performances to students.

In June of 2017, the Department of Education announced it would negotiate the rules of Gainful Employment and began delaying enforcement of Gainful Employment regulations by extending the deadline for universities to disclose their gainful employment data to students and in promotional materials by a year. DeVos has been criticized for her sympathy toward for-profit colleges and student loan providers.

“Once fully implemented, the current rules would unfairly and arbitrarily limit students' ability to pursue certain types of higher education and career training programs,” DeVos said in a 2017 statement. “We need to expand, not limit, paths to higher education for students, while also continuing to hold accountable those institutions that do not serve students well."

In June 2019, DeVos announced a final repeal of the gainful employment rules.

The AFT, a union with over 1.7 million members, is asking the court to reverse the repeal, thereby reestablishing oversight of for-profit colleges and other institutions. Dan Zilber, chief counsel at the National Student Legal Defense Network, a nonprofit that advocates for students’ rights to educational opportunities, is representing AFT.

Zilber said that without the Gainful Employment Rule, students wouldn’t receive necessary information about career and for-profit programs, and that these institutions aren’t preparing students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. Because of this, the repeal could lead to greater difficulties in paying loans and spending on other priorities.

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