DeVos likes scammers more than students, Pruitt worries more about bad press than people being poisoned

You find out something terrible from the Trump administration every day. I was going to write about this story about Betsy DeVos yesterday but didn’t get around to it:

Members of a special team at the Education Department that had been investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters, according to current and former employees.

The unwinding of the team has effectively killed investigations into possibly fraudulent activities at several large for-profit colleges where top hires of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, had previously worked.

During the final months of the Obama administration, the team had expanded to include a dozen or so lawyers and investigators who were looking into advertising, recruitment practices and job placement claims at several institutions, including DeVry Education Group.

The investigation into DeVry ground to a halt early last year. Later, in the summer, Ms. DeVos named Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor.

The sheer gall involved is amazing but there’s no time to dwell on it because there’s more of the same today:

Scott Pruitt’s EPA and the White House sought to block publication of a federal health study on a nationwide water-contamination crisis, after one Trump administration aide warned it would cause a “public relations nightmare,” newly disclosed emails reveal.

The intervention early this year — not previously disclosed — came as HHS’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry was preparing to publish its assessment of a class of toxic chemicals that has contaminated water supplies near military bases, chemical plants and other sites from New York to Michigan to West Virginia.

The study would show that the chemicals endanger human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously called safe, according to the emails.

and here’s why it was blocked:

“The public, media, and Congressional reaction to these numbers is going to be huge,” one unidentified White House aide said in an email forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the OMB. The email added: “The impact to EPA and [the Defense Department] is going to be extremely painful. We (DoD and EPA) cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be.”

Yes, they’re more concerned about the political impact than, ya know, people being poisoned.

These are horrible stories but you’re not going to hear about them too much because there will be more tomorrow and pretty every day.

The Trump budget

Let’s look at some of the highlights of the Trump budget:

For example, the budget would cut $554 billion from Medicare spending over 10 years.

It also would make changes to Medicaid, the health program for lower-income Americans that is funded by the federal government and states. It would create a “market-based health-care grant” that could fund programs in addition to the traditional Medicaid program, a change that would lower Medicaid spending by about $250 billion over 10 years.

One program that would face the biggest reduction is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is a version of food stamps run by the Agriculture Department. The White House proposes cutting $214 billion from the program over 10 years, although Congress often fights about changing SNAP and rarely has enacted changes.

Kevin Drum adds in some more:

The Post Office loses $4 billion, primarily by giving them “the ability to address their expenses—including the cost of personnel.” In other words, by slashing pay and pensions. Low-income energy assistance is eliminated. Foreign aid is cut $5 billion. PBS funding is eliminated. Ditto for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. HUD loses $9 billion, including a $4 billion cut in rental assistance. Etc. etc.
On the mandatory spending side, the budget proposes cuts of $266 billion to Medicare over ten years. SNAP loses $213 billion. Obamacare is eliminated, of course. “Waste and abuse” will generate savings of $187 billion. Farmers lose $47 billion. Subsidized student loans go away, as does the student loan forgiveness program.

And yet it still increases the deficit by a lot:

The White House projects a large gap between government spending and tax revenue over the next decade, adding at least $7 trillion to the debt over that time. In 2019 and 2020 alone, the government would add a combined $2 trillion in debt under Trump’s plan.

And even to get that they assume very rosy projections that are unlikely to happen.

On the one hand this budget is meaningless since the recently passed budget doesn’t follow this plan, on the other this tells us what the Trump administration wants: massively increase defense spending even though the US easily has the largest defense budget in the world already; cut almost all domestic spending, especially that which goes to the non-rich and science; pass large tax cuts that mostly go to the rich and big corporations even if it explodes the deficit.

 

Republicans care

Let’s look at how Republicans care about the people.

First, they’ve so busy trying to take medical insurance from tens of millions of people they let medical insurance for children lapse:

Congress has allowed the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provided low-cost health insurance to 9 million children, to expire.

If action is not taken soon to restore the funding, the effects will become obvious in schools across the country, with many of the children in the program unable to see a doctor for routine checkups, immunizations, visits when sick, and other services.

Second, they will probably get rid of a program that made it so students scammed by fake universities didn’t have to repay their loans:

Relief seemed to be on the way last year after she learned the Obama administration would forgive her Department of Education loans if she could prove she was defrauded by the for-profit college. But President Trump has brought the worries back.

Trump has thrust Cabrera Garcia and more than 65,000 other student borrowers across the country, including about 1,500 in New England, into a new state of financial limbo by suspending applications under Obama’s program of loan forgiveness.

I wonder why? Oh:

DeVos has investment ties to the for-profit education sector. She also has installed former executives and other officials from the for-profit education industry in her department.

Among them: Julian Schmoke Jr., as the Education Department’s top cop looking for schools that are cheating taxpayers and students of federal aid dollars. Schmoke is a former dean at DeVry University, a for-profit school that, along with its parent company, last year agreed to pay the Federal Trade Commission $100 million to settle allegations it lured students with false job and salary information. Critics also say he has little to no experience running investigations.

It’s obvious that DeVos just doesn’t care about public education.

I deserve it, you don’t

The Boston Globe notes that the leaders of the Boston charter schools make a fair amount (the second compares to 13 charter school executives who make $160,000 or more):

The median pay package for the top leaders of the 16 charter schools in Boston was $170,000 last year, making most of them among the highest-paid public school officials in Boston, according to a Globe review of payroll data.

By contrast, three members of Chang’s Cabinet made more than $160,000 in 2016, according to a Globe review.

and their employees make a bit less:

The average earnings for charter-school teachers, guidance counselors, and other educators who work directly with students were roughly $55,000, according to the Globe review. Average pay for teachers in the Boston school system is about $90,000.

Now look at how the leaders talk about the pay of the leaders:

Charter school officials say the large compensation packages reflect the competitive market for top school leaders and the need for special talent.

Harris, in a brief phone interview, said his compensation package was well-earned and reflected the 42 years he spent in public education.

During her tenure, Lam oversaw the school’s relocation from Brighton to Dorchester, its expansion from an elementary school into a K-8 program, and the addition of high-profile programs like EL Sistema, a popular Venezuelan music education program.

“Diana’s unique talents and experience as an accomplished visionary were essential to establishing the school and were reflected in her compensation,” Gary F. Gut, chairman of the school’s trustees, said.

Benjamin Howe, chairman of the trustees at Excel Academy, said the salary the board set for its CEO, Owen Stearns, the third-highest earner, was fair and reasonable and in the best interests of Excel, which operates four campuses in East Boston and Chelsea.

And how they talk about the pay of the teachers:

Charter school leaders say they would like to pay teachers more but the state does not provide them enough money to cover facility costs, forcing them to make up the difference in their operating budgets. The teachers in the independent charters are not unionized.

“Everyone I know wants to hire great teachers and pay them as much as possible,” said Shannah Varon, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School, who also leads the Boston Charter School Alliance. “I don’t know of any executive director who is trying to pad their paychecks and in doing so is hiring teachers who are green or paying them less.”

Somehow they are able to find the extra money to pay the leaders but it’s impossible to find it for the teachers. You might be surprised to learn that the teachers aren’t unionized.

For fun, let’s look at the school Shannah Varon works for, Boston Collegiate Charter School. It has, according to its website, nearly 700 students and has 7 executives on the list of people who make more than $100,000 per year. The top 7 executives earnrd a total of $849, 298 with Shannah topping the list at $166,496. I’m curious why paying  the executives a lot doesn’t reduce the amount that could go towards the pay of the teachers.

Betsy DeVos needs to go back to school

Katherine Clark asked her about discrimination:

Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) said that one private school in Indiana that is a voucher school says it may deny admission to students who are LGBT or who come from a family where there is “homosexual or bisexual activity.” She asked DeVos whether she would tell the state of Indiana that it could not discriminate in that way if it were to accept federal funding through a new school choice program. Clark further asked what DeVos would say if a voucher school were not accepting African American students and the state “said it was okay.”

To Clark’s question about whether she would step in, DeVos responded: “Well again, the Office of Civil Rights and our Title IX protections are broadly applicable across the board, but when it comes to parents making choices on behalf of their students …”

This should have been an easy question to answer: all schools need to abide by federal standards to get federal money, but for some reason DeVos couldn’t just say that. I wonder why? Is it because she really thinks that schools should be allowed to discriminate or if she just doesn’t know how the law works?

She was also asked about students with disabilities:

Lowey noted that in voucher and voucher-like programs in which public money is used to pay for private school tuition and educational expenses, families are often required to sign away their IDEA protections, including due process when a school fails to meet a child’s needs. Lowey asked DeVos if she thought that was fair.

DeVos responded that it should be up to the states to decide how to run their own programs, and then she referred to a tax credit program in Florida, where tens of thousands of students with disabilities attend private school with public money. Florida is one of those states that requires voucher recipients to give up their IDEA rights.

So she’s fine with those students losing federal protection.

She doesn’t seem to know that high poverty schools tend to have less funding:

In her first answer, the secretary said she believed high-poverty school districts do get more funding than wealthier districts, which is most often not true. In the second response, she said she believes high-poverty school districts get more federal funding than wealthier districts.  That is not always true.

She doesn’t think private schools should be held to any standards:

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) discussed a private school that took public dollars even though it said students could learn how to read by simply putting a hand on a book. He asked her if she was “going to have accountability standards” in any new school choice program.

Her response: States should decide “what kind of flexibility they are going to allow.”

Wow.

Let’s look at the Trump administration

We all heard the cries that liberals needed to give Trump a chance, so let’s look at two departments under Trump.

First let’s look at the EPA under Scott Pruitt:

  • thinks its mission is to help the fossil fuel industry:

This new agenda for the EPA, bitterly opposed by many of the agency’s staff, was unveiled at the Harvey mine in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, on Thursday. Pruitt, who was presented with an honorary mining helmet, said the federal government’s “war” on coal was over in a speech to assembled miners.

“The coal industry was nearly devastated by years of regulatory overreach, but with new direction from President Trump, we are helping to turn things around for these miners and for many other hardworking Americans,” said Pruitt.

Though Pruitt insisted that clean air and water will be maintained in this purge, the choice of venue for the announcement was jarring.

Consol Energy, which operates the Bailey Mine complex which includes the Harvey mine, was fined $3m in August for discharging contaminated wastewater into streams that flow into the Ohio river. In the settlement with the EPA and the justice department, it emerged that the mining operation exceeded effluent limits at least 188 times between 2006 and 2015.

He also doesn’t seem to care about pesticides:

The EPA administrator also recently decided to reject the conclusion of his own agency’s scientists who recommended that a widely used pesticide, chlorpyrifos, should be banned from farms.

EPA scientists warned that the pesticides could cause severe harm to children and farm workers, but Pruitt said chlorpyrifos would not be banned in order to provide “regulatory certainty” to businesses.

And he has his priorities straight (bold added):

The EPA has been targeted by the Trump administration for stringent budget cuts. The agency has drawn up a plan that would lay off 25% of its employees and scrap 56 programs, including pesticide safety, lead toxicity and environmental justice. There would be new funding, however, for a 24-hour security detail for Pruitt.

  • He really seems to want increased pollution from coal:

The hulking Gallatin Fossil Plant sits on a scenic bend of the Cumberland River about 30 miles upstream from Nashville. In addition to generating electricity, the plant, built in the early 1950s by the Tennessee Valley Authority, produces more than 200,000 tons of coal residue a year. That coal ash, mixed with water and sluiced into pits and ponds on the plant property, has been making its way into groundwater and the river, potentially threatening drinking water supplies, according to two current lawsuits.

A new rule regulating the monitoring, safe storage and disposal of coal ash went into effect in 2015. This past week, however, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said in a letter to a Minnesota environmental official that the agency would reconsider the rule and delay the 2018 compliance deadline for states.

President Trump’s top environment official called Thursday for an exit from the historic Paris agreement, in what appeared to be the first time such a high-ranking official has so explicitly disavowed the agreement endorsed by nearly 200 countries to fight climate change.

Speaking with ‘‘Fox & Friends,’’ Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt said, ‘‘Paris is something that we need to really look at closely. It’s something we need to exit in my opinion.’’

‘‘It’s a bad deal for America,’’ Pruitt continued. ‘‘It was an America second, third, or fourth kind of approach. China and India had no obligations under the agreement until 2030. We front-loaded all of our costs.’’

Then there’s Betsy DeVos, that supremely unqualified leader of the Department of Education.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is inexplicably backing away from rules that are meant to prevent federal student loan borrowers from being fleeced by companies the government pays to collect the loans and to guide people through the repayment process.

On Tuesday, she withdrew a sound Obama administration policy that required the Education Department to take into account the past conduct of loan servicing companies before awarding them lucrative contracts — and to include consumer protections in those contracts as well.

A suit brought by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau claims that Navient saved itself money by steering borrowers into costly repayment strategies that added billions in interest to their balances. But as Stacy Cowley and Jessica Silver-Greenberg reported in The Times on Monday, states’ lawsuits are especially damning with respect to Sallie Mae — the company that spun off Navient in 2014.

Most people would think that such a company shouldn’t get more business with the federal government, but not our Secretary of Education.

  • She hired someone even less qualified than she is, which I would have thought was impossible:

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Now that’s impressive. Scott Pruitt has sued the EPA and Rick Perry now heads an agency he once wanted to get rid of, but the new head of the Education’s Office for Civil Rights has worked for someone who was against the Civil Rights Act and compulsory education. You can see her thinking in these quotes:

“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”

“In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals,” she wrote. “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.”

It’s almost as if she doesn’t believe racism or sexism exist, which is kind of weird for a head of a civil rights division.

She’s also blatant in her hypocrisy and partisanship:

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.”

 

This same kind of thing is true in almost every part of the Trump administration, which is why we didn’t want to give Trump a chance. We knew how bad he could be.

Education under Trump

Democrats worried about how the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos would be with student debt given that she had invested in a company that collect defaulted loans. They were right to be worried:

The U.S. Education Department late Thursday rescinded an Obama-era rule that prohibited student loan guaranty agencies from collecting jumbo fees from defaulted borrowers who quickly resume paying.

Currently, guaranty agencies — the bodies that administer federal loans made before 2010 — aren’t allowed to collect fees from borrowers who respond within 60 days to a default notice and then enter into (and honor) a repayment agreement. Those rules were put in place in July 2015.

The Obama-era rule on collection fees was linked to a court case that started in 2013, in which a borrower sued United Student Aid Funds (USA Funds) for hitting her with a $4,500 charge from a 16% collection fee. She owed $18,000 at the time her loans went into default, but she responded to USA Funds and agreed to a repayment plans.

This isn’t the final decision (they also link to the actual letter):

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration walks back the department’s previous stance on the grounds that there should have been public input on the issue.

“The department will not require compliance with the interpretations set forth” in the previous memo “without providing prior notice and an opportunity for public comment on the issues,” the letter said.

I have a feeling they’re not going to be asking for any public input in the near future. This doesn’t affect loans that have been taken out recently:

The rule only applies to debt from the Federal Family Education Loan (often called FFEL loans) Program, which was phased out during Obama’s first term. The department started lending directly to student borrowers in 2010, so the rule won’t affect anyone who’s taken out loans in the past several years.

but I have a feeling that these loans directly from the Education department aren’t going to be around for much longer.

It also appears that the President might be thinking about reopening Trump University:

Less than a month after Betsy DeVos was sworn in as its top official, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday evening that it would delay until July 1 an effort to crack down on career training programs that load students up with unpayable debt.

The biggest winners: the more than 800 higher educational programs that claim to lead to “gainful employment” but flunked the department’s January excessive debt test—mostly for-profit art and cosmetology schools. These programs can now continue to recruit applicants (at least until July 1) without having to warn them about alumni’s oppressively high debt loads. The schools can also take this extra time to seek data showing that their graduates’ student loan bills are actually below the official “excessive debt” cutoff. That means bills must be no more than 12% of the average student’s gross earnings, as reported to the Social Security Administration, and no more than 30% of their discretionary income.

and:

As chief compliance officer for a corporate owner of for-profit colleges, Robert S. Eitel spent the past 18 months as a top lawyer for a company facing multiple government investigations, including one that ended with a settlement of more than $30 million over deceptive student lending.

Today, Mr. Eitel — on an unpaid leave of absence — is working as a special assistant to the new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, whose department is setting out to roll back regulations governing the for-profit college sector.

It appears that the only thing the Trump administration wants to teach you is: if you’re not rich we’re going to screw you.

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