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18 AGs sue Department of Education over Gainful Employment Rule

Eighteen state attorneys general filed a lawsuit Tuesday challenging Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over the department’s lack of implementation of an Obama-era rule that was designed to protect students at for-profit colleges.

“From delaying student loan forgiveness to exposing students to misconduct by abusive schools, Secretary DeVos and the Department of Education have put special interests before students’ best interests,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Failing to implement the Gainful Employment Rule leaves students vulnerable to exploitation and fraud. If Washington won’t defend students against predatory for-profit schools, we will.”

The official complaint, led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, was filed by 18 Democratic attorneys general in the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The department announced in June it would “allow for additional time for institutions to comply with overly burdensome gainful employment regulations.”

Gainful employment regulations were put in place during the Obama administration to try to increase accountability. The rules require for-profit schools and programs to help students prepare for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation,” in order to receive federal funding, according to a fact sheet issued by the Department of Education in 2015.

“Since their creation under the previous administration, gainful employment regulations have been repeatedly challenged by educational institutions and overturned by the courts, underscoring the need for a regulatory reset,” DeVos said in the June 30 statement. “We need to get this right for our students, and we need to get this right for our institutions of higher education. Once fully implemented, the current rules would unfairly and arbitrarily limit students’ ability to pursue certain types of higher education and career training programs. 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.”

The regulations have been challenged in years past, and the Education Department is calling Tuesday’s filing a political stunt.

“This is just the latest in a string of frivolous lawsuits filed by Democratic attorneys general who are only seeking to score quick political points,” Education Department press secretary Liz Hill said in an email statement. “While this administration, and Secretary DeVos in particular, continue work to replace this broken rule with one that actually protects students, these legal stunts do nothing more than divert time and resources away from that effort.”

But California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is also listed on the complaint, sees similarities between one of President Trump’s former businesses and the Education Department’s current approach.

“Less than a year ago, Donald Trump had to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits against his now-defunct, for-profit Trump University. Now, as President, his Department of Education seems dead-set on continuing a tarnished legacy of putting predatory for-profit colleges ahead of students,” Becerra said in a statement. “Regardless of his fond nostalgia for those business practices, enough is enough.”