Democratic attorneys general in 17 states and the District of Columbia filed suit Tuesday against the U.S. Department of Education over its decision to block an Obama-era rule designed to protect students from being defrauded by for-profit colleges.
The Gainful Employment rule was supposed to take effect this year, but Education Secretary Betsy DeVos froze it until a new rule could be crafted. The rule was meant to ensure that students received an education that would help them land a job with a high enough income to pay off their student loan debt.
The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court in the nation's capital, comes as DeVos faces criticism from student advocates and Democratic lawmakers for delaying action on tens of thousands of claims for loan forgiveness from former students at defunct for-profit colleges.
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DeVos' move to block the gainful employment rule is part of an ongoing effort to roll back some of the policies of the Obama administration on issues ranging from student loans to the rights of transgender students and the way colleges investigate sexual assault on campus. DeVos says those rules were ineffective, confusing and were an encroachment on state and local rights.
"The Department of Education is again eliminating crucial protections for student borrowers," said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, Other states represented in the lawsuit were California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.
"Students seek higher education degrees to get better, higher paying jobs," Frosh said in a statement. "When predatory institutions fail to deliver the education and training they promise, students are saddled with burdensome debt, and their employment prospects are not improved.
Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill dismissed the lawsuit as a political show and said DeVos was working to fix a broken system.
"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," Hill said in a 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. "
The action follows a similar lawsuit filed by 19 attorneys general in July over the blocking of student lending protection, the Borrower Defense rule, which DeVos also blocked. Under that rule, students would have their loans forgiven if their college misrepresented the quality of its programs.