WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and 18 other attorneys general this week sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education for abandoning federal rules to protect college students from abusive loan practices by higher education institutions that were set to go into effect July 1.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenges the Department of Education’s action in abruptly rescinding its Borrower Defense Rule — designed to hold higher education institutions accountable for cheating students and taxpayers out of billions of dollars in federal loans.
The rule was finalized in November and followed the collapse and bankruptcy of Corinthian Colleges — a for-profit chain that authorities say committed multiple violations of state and federal law in advertising, enrolling and financing to students.
“Rolling back student loan protections harms Pennsylvania college students and their families,” Shapiro said in a press release. “With a rising number of students burdened by college loan debt or in default, this is exactly the wrong time for the Department of Education to abdicate its responsibility to protect students from deceptive practices by these for-profit schools. If Secretary DeVos and her Department won’t protect our college students, I will.”
Pennsylvania has more than 200 colleges and universities and trade schools, and approximately 100 other for-profit educational institutions. The average student loan debt for a Pennsylvania college graduate is currently $34,798 — the third-highest average debt in the country.
The regulations at issue provide protections for federal student loan borrowers against abusive practices by schools and colleges, including for-profit companies, and assist in enforcing state consumer protection laws. Additionally, they allow student loan borrowers to have their debt forgiven if they were victims of deceptive practices by their school or college, such as misrepresenting job placement rates at the school.
DeVos announced earlier this year the Education Department was re-evaluating the Borrower Defense Rule.
The department simultaneously announced its decision to issue a new rule to replace the Borrower Defense Rule, citing pending litigation in the case California Association of Private Post-secondary Schools (CAPPS) v. Betsy DeVos. The lawsuit filed this week argues that, “the Department’s reference to the pending litigation is a pretext for repealing the Rule and replacing it with a new rule that will remove or dilute student rights and protections.”
On June 14, Shapiro and a coalition of attorneys general filed a motion to intervene in the CAPPS case in order to defend students and taxpayers. CAPPS is a trade association representing many for-profit education institutions.
“These safeguards for students to protect them from abuse by for-profit higher education institutions are being abandoned by the very federal agency that should be enforcing them,” Shapiro said. “We’ve filed this lawsuit to protect students in our Commonwealth and country and hold these institutions accountable for deceiving students for their own gain.”
The suit asks the court to declare the department’s delay unlawful and order the department to implement the Borrower Defense Rule.
USDA sets income guidelines
for free, reduced school meals
The United States Department of Agriculture has released federal income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price school meals and free milk for the upcoming school year.
Schools and other institutions and facilities use the guidelines to determine eligibility for the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Special Milk Program for Children, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
“Food insecurity impacts communities across the commonwealth,” state Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera said in a press release. “Without proper nutrition, a student’s health, focus, and academic performance may decline. The free and reduced lunch, and other nutrition programs improve at-risk students’ access to healthy meals, and overall health and well-being.”
Households receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as Food Stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) — need only include the SNAP or TANF case number on their application. Households enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) also may qualify for free or reduced-price school meals and should complete a Household Meal Benefit Application.
Rep. Kaufer reminds citizens
of monthly outreach sessions
In an effort to assist all residents of the 120th District, state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-Kingston, reminds those interested of his monthly schedule of outreach events at his district office at 161 Main St., Luzerne.
Here’s the upcoming schedule:
• The Small Business Advocacy Program will take place on the second Thursday of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A counselor from the Wilkes University Small Business Development Center will be available to help existing business owners grow their business, explore new markets, plan strategically and operate with confidence.
• Career and Educational Planning will take place the second Friday of the month, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Angeline Abraham, academic specialist from Educational Opportunity Centers Inc. (EOC), will be available to offer free counseling in college admissions, financial aid, career planning and more. EOC advances and defends equal opportunity for low-income, first-generation adult students. Adults, dislocated workers and career-changers are encouraged to schedule an appointment.
• Veterans Assistance Hours are every third Thursday of the month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Gina Svoboda, department service officer with the American Legion, will be available to assist veterans, their spouses and their dependents with a range of issues.
• The Disability Advocacy Program will take place every fourth Friday of the month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bob Fox, from the Center for Independent Living (CIL), will assist persons with disabilities, ages 18 and over. The CIL works to improve and enhance the independent living options for people with disabilities, including skills training, home modifications, and deaf and autism services.
Each of the sessions requires pre-registration. To do so, call 570-283-1001. This outreach schedule is also available online at RepKaufer.com.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.