While pollsters continue to assess the American electorate’s appetite for impeaching and removing President Donald Trump from office for his criminal behavior, finding still a population virtually split down the middle, voters seem to have far less tolerance for the fraudulent enterprises of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Evidence suggests, in fact, that making the impact of her policies and behaviors, as well as the Trump administration’s educational policies overall, more central in any 2020 Democratic campaign could prove successful in defeating Trump’s re-election bid.
If the damaging and even murderous intrigue of Trump’s foreign dealings with Russia, the Ukraine, and Turkey, or his severe abuse of Latin American children at the southern border, don’t seem to outrage voters, it seems Americans do care about how their own children are treated in public schools and also how their own pursuit of educational opportunities are hindered or supported.
As I’ve written about earlier for PoliticusUsa, DeVos has repeatedly undermined access to education for America’s students and, in her routine yet stalwart support of for-profit education, has participated in fleecing Americans of millions of dollars and leaving them, as they earnestly sought degrees to improve their lives and pursue their dreams, without diplomas.
At the end of last August, DeVos, reversing policies put in place during the Obama administration to enable students to seek forgiveness for loans they received when for-profit colleges defrauded them, made it more difficult for students to qualify for such loan forgiveness.
She complained students were just raising their hands to get “free money.”
Eileen Connor, legal director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, found these rollbacks so unconscionably egregious that the project has vowed to challenge them in court. She said, “If Betsy DeVos won’t do her job and stand up for students, then we will fill that void. That is why we will be filing a suit challenge these harmful new regulations that give a green light to for-profit colleges to continue scamming students.”
Last week DeVos had her day—or rather her follow-up day–in federal district court on another but related matter dating back to a June 2018 ruling from Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim that ordered DeVos and the Department of Education to cease and desist from collecting on loans students owed from Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit chain of colleges that collapsed in 2014 after being exposed for cheating students with deceptive recruiting practices and falsified job placement data. At last Thursday’s hearing, Magistrate Judge Kim held DeVos in contempt of court, levying a $100,000 fine, for violating that 2018 order and continuing to pursue the collection of debt from roughly 16,000 students, in many cases garnering wages and tax refunds, in addition to sending bills to borrowers for debts they did not owe.
According to reporting from The New York Times, earlier this month DeVos, in response to scathing criticism from Elizabeth Warren over this fraudulent practice, tweeted rather blithely: “Loan servicers made an error on a small # of loans. We know & we’re fixing it.”
Magistrate Judge Kim did not share this casual attitude toward the violation of her order and DeVos’ unabashed and relentless defrauding of students, stating in a hearing earlier in the month, “I’m astounded, really. I feel like there have to be some consequences for the violation of my order 16,000 times.”
At this same hearing, Kim also declared, “At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order. I’m not sure if this is contempt or sanctions. I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability.”
Maybe DeVos should be locked up for, in Kim’s words, having “harmed individual borrowers who were forced to repay loans.”
Perhaps the Democrats’ have a new campaign slogan, “Lock her up!”
The issue of education has come up only once in the four Democratic primary debates, and even then only sparsely
If Michigan’s congressional elections in 2016 and 2018 are any indication, however, Democrats might be well-served to center educational issues more forcefully and to highlight DeVos’ fleecing, even defrauding, of American students in the name of for-profit education that undermines public education.
In an excellent piece titled “Could Betsy DeVos Cost Trump the Election?” in The New Republic, Jennifer Berkshire reports how Democrats Darrin Camilleri in 2016 and Padma Kuppa and Matt Koleszar in 2018 flipped Republican-held state representative seats in their respective districts in Michigan by foregrounding the erosion of public schools in those districts due to a gross underfunding caused in part by DeVos’ long-standing charter school movement in the state.
These districts, Berkshire points out, were strong Trump strongholds populated by combinations of suburban, rural, and blue-collar voters, but the resentment toward DeVos generated as they watched starved public schools fail their children, bound them together as a voting bloc concerned about their children’s welfare, which the GOP had neglected in favor of providing tax cuts for the wealthy.
And even CEOs and the business community at large are starting to speak up, recognizing that the big tax cuts they thought benefited them are now backfiring. As Berkshire reports, “In July, when CNBC released its annual list of the ‘best states for doing business,’ Michigan had dropped 13 places. The state’s schools are now so underfunded that they are no longer churning out the qualified graduates that investors look for when starting a new business.” She cites Rob Fowler, CEO of a trade group representing 27,000 small businesses in the state, who worried, “We’re like the frog in the water that’s getting warmer and warmer.”
A broad coalition is forming against traditional GOP educational policies, and specifically those of DeVos and the Trump administration. They are recognizing the need to invest in people’s lives in order to create the most effective economy and society.
If Americans are not sufficiently concerned about Trump’s crimes, DeVos’ crimes of defrauding students for profit and underfunding public education to the detriment of all can provide a rallying point for reclaiming America from the self-serving regime of Trump and DeVos.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.