DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

For-profit college fraud investigations scaled back under Betsy DeVos

A Department of Education team that had looked into fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges has been dismantled to the point that it has “effectively killed investigations” into institutions where top hires of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once worked, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing current and former employees.

The team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members today, the Times reported. Current and former employees, including former team members, said the team’s mission has been reduced to processing student loan forgiveness applications and examining smaller compliance cases, the newspaper said.

An investigation into DeVry University, now known as Adtalem Global Education, “ground to a halt early last year,” and later, over the summer, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the school, to be the team’s supervisor, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, probes into for-profit education companies Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. also “went dark,” the newspaper said. The Times reported that former employees of those institutions are working for DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, a former Bridgepoint attorney who is now her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a former Career Education employee who is now a senior postsecondary education adviser at the department. The department’s recently confirmed general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, provided consulting services to Career Education, the newspaper said.

[CNN]

DeVos Education Dept. Begins Dismissing Civil Rights Cases in Name of Efficiency

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has begun dismissing hundreds of civil rights complaints under a new protocol that allows investigators to disregard cases that are part of serial filings or that they consider burdensome to the office.

Department officials said the new policy targeted advocates who flooded the office with thousands of complaints for similar violations, jamming its investigation pipeline with cases that could be resolved without exhausting staff and resources. But civil rights advocates worry that the office’s rejection of legitimate claims is the most obvious example to date of its diminishing role in enforcing civil rights laws in the nation’s schools.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the new provision was part of the office’s revision of its manual that lays out procedures for processing civil rights cases. The goal of the new manual, which took effect last month, is to help the office better manage its docket, investigations and resolutions, she said.

Among the changes implemented immediately is a provision that allows the Office for Civil Rights to dismiss cases that reflect “a pattern of complaints previously filed with O.C.R. by an individual or a group against multiple recipients,” or complaints “filed for the first time against multiple recipients that” place “an unreasonable burden on O.C.R.’s resources.”

So far, the provision has resulted in the dismissal of more than 500 disability rights complaints.

Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Office for Civil Rights under the Obama administration, said the new provision undermined the mission of the office. Unlike the Justice Department, the Education Department cannot pick and choose the cases it pursues. If the office has evidence that the law has been violated, it must open a case.

“The thing that scares me is when they get to say ‘we won’t open some cases because it’s too much for us,’ or ‘we don’t like complainant,’ or ‘it’s not our week to work on that,’ you start to change the character of the office,” Ms. Lhamon said.

But Debora L. Osgood, a lawyer who worked for 25 years at the Office for Civil Rights and now consults with and represents schools on civil rights matters, praised the change. She said the provision showed that the agency was “essentially taking the reins back for control of its complaint docket.”

Ms. Osgood said that in her experience, one person could clog the pipeline in each of the agency’s 12 regional offices, limiting investigators’ ability to respond to other complaints. It often frustrated investigators who prided themselves on being able to resolve complaints promptly, she said.

[The New York Times]

How could Trump be so clueless about community colleges?

(CNN) When I started college at 19, I was timid and unsure of the big world ahead of me.

Fast-forward two years later and I felt like a different person: More confident, more self-assured and more determined than ever to pursue a degree in journalism after a high school hobby grew into a full-fledged passion.

The positive changes were remarkable, and I credit much of my transformation to one thing: My education at a community college.

Sadly, though, community colleges don’t hold much value, at least if you listen to President Donald Trump. Last week, during a speech at an Ohio training facility for construction apprentices, he spoke of his desire to return to the days of vocational schools while simultaneously underscoring the valuable role community colleges play in society.

“I don’t know what that means, a community college,” Trump told the crowd in Richfield, Ohio. “Call it vocational and technical. People know what that means. They don’t know what a community college means.”

In the world of Trump quotes, this was a pretty blink-and-you-missed it one, but his words were misguided at best and incredibly destructive at worst. For Trump to display such casual ignorance shows a disregard that is nothing short of a grave disservice to the people who seek a quality education there.

And the number of people who do is not a small one in the slightest. According to the College Board, which tracks trends in higher education, in 2014 more than 40% of all undergraduate students were enrolled in a community college.

So what exactly does “community college” mean? Many things to many people. Different things to different people. It means a chance for a single parent who works full-time to take night classes and work toward a degree. It means someone who’s retired can experience the excitement of continuing education classes. It means someone fresh out of high school can save money on tuition and explore their options while taking general education classes at a two-year college.

My community college education gave me a solid foundation right from the beginning. It gave me room to grow, to learn about myself and to develop skills — both academic skills and life skills — that I would carry with me even after I left those hallowed halls and found myself in the “real world.” And things like smaller class sizes and more one-on-one interaction with instructors made me realize that solid foundation was unique; I doubt I would have had the same experience if I started at a four-year university right out of high school.

And I doubt I’d be the writer I am today if it weren’t for the time I spent as a staff writer (and later, editor-in-chief) of my college’s student newspaper. I was able to get hands-on experience in all facets of newspaper production, from writing to interviewing sources to editing to design, as well as learning leadership skills that extended far beyond the classroom.

Maybe that’s why, some six years after I graduated, I found myself walking those old, familiar halls of my community college once again. Only this time, I was no longer a student, but an adjunct faculty member. I was back as the faculty adviser to the student newspaper — yes, the same newspaper I worked on when I was a student. I was training the next generation of student journalists. In a way, it felt like everything was falling into place just as it should. It felt like everything had come full circle and I was home again.

That is the power and meaning of community college. Because everything I learned in those couple years have molded and shaped me into the person I am today. I’ve carried those lessons with me.

My community college turns 50 this year. Its longevity speaks volumes, as do the memories I’ve carried with me for almost two decades.

As Alia Wong wrote recently in “The Atlantic,” the erroneous assumption Trump made in his speech “was that community colleges and vocational schools haven’t been able to and can’t exist alongside each other — a misunderstanding that further underappreciates an already underappreciated component of American education.”

Maybe that’s the beauty of it right there: Community colleges serve a variety of purposes, all of which benefit our present and future. Education, in all its forms, is never a waste of time. Taking steps to learn something and to better yourself is always a worthwhile endeavor. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

[CNN]

Media

Betsy DeVos Is Telling States to Stop Cracking Down on Student Loan Companies

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stepped into a fight between student loan companies and state regulators — and she’s siding with the loan companies.

State attorneys general have led the charge to hold loan servicers accountable for practices that hurt consumers. The loan companies, by contrast, have argued that because they are hired directly by the U.S. government to manage loan repayment for roughly 40 million borrowers, they shouldn’t be subject to additional state laws aimed at protecting those borrowers.

Now, in an announcement posted online Friday, the U.S. Department of Education has taken a side — maintaining that state rules aimed at greater consumer protection undermine the federal government’s goal to have a single, streamlined federal loan program.

The memo doesn’t have any legal effect on current state laws, according to consumer advocates at the Center for Responsible Lending. But it is the latest move in an ongoing struggle between student loan servicers and state lawmakers.

Loan servicers basically serve as middlemen between you and your lender (in this case, the federal government). You likely associate their names—Navient, Nelnet, PHEAA, or MOHELA, for example—with your monthly student loan bill. Consumer and student advocates have been criticizing the behavior of servicers for years. Borrowers complain of lost paperwork, conflicting advice on repayment plans, payments applied to the wrong loans, and more.

Back in 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that sloppy customer service practices had led to higher interest charges and late fees, longer repayment, and massive confusion for borrowers. More recently, the Bureau received 12,900 student loan complaints between September 2016 and August 2017 — and 70% of them were related to servicing issues.

Regulators in a handful of states say that federal oversight hasn’t been strict enough to rein in this bad behavior, and have launched their own investigations into the practices of student loan servicers. Twelve states and the District of Columbia also have either passed or introduced legislation that requires loan servicers to obtain licenses — and therefore abide by a given set of guidelines — to operate in their state, according to the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a trade group for lenders.

In Illinois, for example, the Student Loan Bill of Rights — which survived a veto from the governor last fall — will require servicers to employ specially trained staffers to advise struggling borrowers of their repayment plan options. Other state rules outline how quickly servicers must respond to borrower inquiries, or require them to alert a borrower whose account has been transferred to a new servicer (a common practice that borrowers often don’t know about).

The loan servicers, for their part, say they already follow rules put in place by the federal government — and that because they manage accounts across the country, complying with a myriad of additional state laws would be counterproductive, duplicative, and confusing.

NCHER, the lender trade group, said on Friday that while the group believes there are ways the federal loan system could be improved, the current collection of state laws is a “regulatory maze” that adds confusion for borrowers and additional costs for the federal government.

In October, a group of 25 state attorneys general sent a letter to DeVos, defending their right to “[protect] their residents from fraudulent and abusive practices” and asking her not to bow to pressure from industry groups that wanted the department to step in on their behalf. That group of state officials included Democratic attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, all of which have been at the forefront of pushing for better oversight of student loan servicers. But it also included attorneys general from some Republican states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Politico first reported on DeVos’s plans to try to shield loan servicers from state regulations. The magazine also found, through a records request, that the Education Department has told the student loan companies not to respond directly to information requests from third parties — including state regulators.

More than 11 million borrowers are several months behind on their loan payments, and the rate of new defaults has continued to increase despite the presence of income-driven repayment plans that should keep borrowers out of default. That’s one reason consumer advocates say servicers must do better about informing borrowers about repayment options.

In the department’s newly released memo, DeVos writes that existing federal protections already “ensure that borrowers receive exemplary customer service and are protected from substandard practices.”

Consumer advocates disagree, with many immediately bashing the move from DeVos. The National Consumer Law Center described it as a “plan to protect servicers and debt collectors that lie to borrowers.”

The Consumer Federation of America, meanwhile, says the department’s interpretation doesn’t hold up legally, and that state regulators should ignore it. (Some state lawmakers have already indicated they plan to.) Lawmakers have long held that the federal Higher Education Act doesn’t override state laws that offer additional protections to borrowers, as long as those rules don’t directly conflict with federal law, according to the statement from Christopher Peterson, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.

“Now the Trump Administration is attempting to trample states’ authority and the best interests of student loan borrowers to pad the bottom line of debt collection businesses,” their statement reads.

[TIME]

Trump insists on arming teachers despite lack of evidence it would stop shootings

In the past 24 hours, Donald Trump has thrice backed a plan to arm teachers in US schools despite the lack of evidence showing this would end school shootings.

Facing opposition from the country’s largest teachers’ unions, school security guards and military veterans, the president continued to endorse the plan in White House meetings and on Twitter.

“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump said Thursday morning in a meeting about school safety at the White House.

In the Thursday meeting, the president suggested offering bonuses to teachers who are trained to carry concealed weapons.

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly,” Trump said at a Wednesday night listening session with loved ones of people killed in mass shootings.

There are few examples available of armed citizens stopping mass shootings and it is difficult to track, in part because it is difficult to know what a gunman was planning before they were stopped.

A 2014 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study of US active shooter incidents in the US between 2000 and 2013 said of the 160 total incidents examined, 21 were stopped by citizens, workers or off-duty police officers. Of the 21 people, six were armed.

An active shooter incident is defined as a shooting that occurs in a confined, populated area and in which law enforcement or citizens could affect the outcome based on their response. Shootings related to gang violence, accidents and suicides were not included in the tally.

The majority of the 160 incidents, 56.3%, were ended by the shooter before police arrived. Either the shooter committed suicide, stopped shooting or fled the scene. “The FBI recognizes that seeking to avoid these tragedies is clearly the best result,” the study concluded.

Trump’s suggestion to arm teachers was immediately opposed by the nation’s largest teachers’ unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – as well as the teachers’ union in Florida’s Broward County, where last week’s shooting took place.

Individual teachers criticized Trump’s suggestion on social media under the #ArmMeWith campaign. There, teachers asked that the money that would be needed to fulfill Trump’s plan instead be used to improve schools resources such as mental health services and basic classroom supplies.

A former assistant principal who stopped a shooting at a high school in Mississippi while armed told the New York Times the experience left him with nightmares and acute stress for six months afterward.

“It doesn’t matter what a pistolero you are, or think you are,” Joel Myrick said. “You don’t need to be in school in charge of protecting children.”

The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), the nation’s largest school policing group, also said it opposed arming teachers. They noted law enforcement officers responding to an incident may mistake armed personnel not in uniform as the assailant. They also emphasized how law enforcement officers receive ongoing practice in high-stress and difficult shooting environments.

At the Wednesday listening session, Trump also described a situation where there would simply be more armed people on campus – not just teachers.

“They may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force,” Trump said. “And they’re very adept at doing that. You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school.”

Veterans disputed this claim on Twitter.

Jay Kirell, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, said it was “extremely difficult” to shoot under stress. “Cops & soldiers literally get paid to do this & most of them can’t shoot accurately under stress,” Kirell tweeted.

Daniel Riley, an infantryman in the Marines who attended Columbine high school, guessed how many Marines would have been needed to prevent students being killed at his alma mater during the 1999 attack.

“Using my knowledge of both, my guess on what it would take to prevent kids from being killed on 4/20/99: at least 20 Armed Marines (And it’s still a maybe),” Riley said. “And that’s somehow ‘common sense’?”

Trump’s proposal ignores the efficacy of gun laws in other countries where there are far fewer incidents of gun violence.

[The Guardian]

Donald Trump Argues He Never Said ‘Give Teachers Guns’ Before Pushing To Give Some Teachers Guns

President Donald Trump elaborated on his proposal to arm 20 percent of teaching staff at schools in a series of tweets Thursday.

Trump first made the proposal during a listening session with students and parents affected by mass shootings, including some from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed last week.

Trump denied he ever suggested giving teachers guns, before arguing “only the best” teachers ― like ones with military experience ― should be given guns.

Since Trump first mentioned the idea Wednesday, some teachers have taken to Twitter to push back, arguing they don’t want the responsibility of keeping a gun in their classrooms. But Trump continued to push the idea Thursday morning.

Trump argued a “sicko shooter” wouldn’t try to stage an attack on a school known for having armed teachers.

Trump again said he’d push for improvements to the federal background check system. Earlier this week, the White House signaled support for the Fix NICS Act, a bill that seeks to address flaws in the national criminal background check database. The bill has the support of both gun control advocates and the National Rifle Association, but has yet to receive a vote in the Senate.

[Huffington Post]

 

 

 

US to Withdraw From UNESCO Cultural Agency

The Trump administration on Thursday said it would withdraw the United States from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), citing anti-Israeli bias from the organization.

UNESCO was informed of the administration’s decision on Thursday. The State Department said the U.S. would instead seek to be a permanent observer to UNESCO, which promotes collaboration among countries through culture, education and science.

This is not the first time the United States has withdrawn from the organization, nor is it the first time the United States has criticized UNESCO for anti-Israeli bias. The United States also withdrew from the organization during the Cold War under President Ronald Reagan.

During the Obama administration, the U.S. slashed $80 million per year of its funding for the organization, according to Foreign Policy, a move that followed UNESCO’s admittance of Palestine as a member.

The cuts have increased the money owed by the United States to UNESCO to $500 million, the magazine reported.

Fights over Israel and the Palestinian cause have been frequent flashpoints for the United States under past administrations.

Israel last year summoned its UNESCO ambassador after the organization declared that one of Jerusalem’s holy sites is specifically a “Muslim holy site of worship,” according to Reuters.

The U.S. will still be involved with the organization “as a non-member observer state,” the State Department said.

The goal is “to contribute U.S. views, perspectives and expertise on some of the important issues undertaken by the organization, including the protection of world heritage, advocating for press freedoms, and promoting scientific collaboration and education.”

The withdrawal will become official on Dec. 31, 2018.

[The Hill]

Trump team halts rules meant to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges

The Trump administration is suspending two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges, saying it will soon start the process to write its own regulations.

The move made Wednesday by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was a victory for Republican lawmakers and for-profit colleges that had lobbied against the rules. Critics denounced it, accusing the administration of essentially selling out students to help for-profit colleges stay in business.

The Education Department released a statement saying that it was going to create new committees to rewrite rules covering borrower defense to repaying, or BDR, and gainful employment. BDR relieves students of all federal loans if a school used illegal or deceptive tactics to persuade students to borrow money to attend. Gainful employment requires that action be taken — including possible expulsion from the federal student aid program — against vocational programs whose graduates leave with heavy student loan debt. Ninety-eight percent of the programs that officials found to have failed to meet those standards are offered by for-profit colleges.

Parts of the gainful employment rule are already in effect. BDR was set to become effective July 1 but will now be postponed. The Education Department said that while new rules are drawn up, it will process applications under the current borrower defense rules.

A program is considered to lead to “gainful employment” if the annual loan payment of a typical graduate does not exceed 20% of their discretionary income or 8% of their total earnings. Exceeding those debt-to-earnings rates means possible expulsion from the federal student aid program.

DeVos criticized the regulations that were approved by the Obama administration, saying that they are unfair to students and schools and that they leave taxpayers with a big bill.

“Fraud, especially fraud committed by a school, is simply unacceptable,” she said in her department’s statement. “Unfortunately, last year’s rule-making effort missed an opportunity to get it right. The result is a muddled process that’s unfair to students and schools, and puts taxpayers on the hook for significant costs. It’s time to take a step back and make sure these rules achieve their purpose: helping harmed students. It’s time for a regulatory reset. It is the department’s aim, and this administration’s commitment, to protect students from predatory practices while also providing clear, fair and balanced rules for colleges and universities to follow.”

The American Federation of Teachers pushed back against the decision.

“The Trump administration’s actions today show that the White House stands with predatory for-profit schools, not the students they rip off,” it said in a statement. “About the only thing worse than ripping off students with worthless degrees from for-profit colleges is denying them help to relieve their substantial debt, and allowing the schools to continue to prey on students. Given that for-profit colleges were big donors to Trump and other Republican candidates, one wonders whether this is simply a new pay-to-play scheme at the expense of our students, including our veterans, who are much helped by the rules Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to eliminate.”

Not everyone in higher education opposed the administration’s move, however. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the United Negro College Fund and the National Assn. for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education — which represent historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs — sent a letter to DeVos this week urging her to put a hold on the implementation of the regulations and reconsider them.

“We remain concerned about the sweeping scope of the regulation and vague standards for determining ‘misrepresentation’ that could unfairly leave HBCUs and PBIs liable for frivolous claims, unwarranted fines, and unfounded penalties,” they said in the letter. “Such provisions could result in significant costs that would divert precious resources better spent on serving the needs of students.”

The nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and the Project on Predatory Student Lending smacked DeVos’ move, saying in a statement that she had “put the profit margins of for-profit colleges ahead of the interests of students and their families” in “a craven attempt to avoid the agency’s legal obligation” to enforce the rules. The statement cited a part of the Obama-era rules that included a ban on the use of forced arbitration clauses in many student enrollment contracts:

“These clauses require students to submit any dispute that might later arise between the students and the institution to binding arbitration, a private process with little right to appeal, instead of a court of law. The rules also provide new and long-needed protections for students asserting defenses against repayment of their federal loans based on fraud or other misconduct by the students’ schools.”

[The Los Angeles Times]

DeVos ‘Not Going to Be Issuing Decrees’ on Civil Rights Protections

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos clashed with Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday over protections for LGBT students, balking when asked directly if she would ban private schools from receiving federal funds if they discriminate against these students.

The Trump administration wants to invest millions into an unprecedented expansion of private-school vouchers and public-private charter schools, prompting critics to worry that religious schools, for example, might expel LGBT students or, more broadly, that private schools might refuse to admit students with disabilities. Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, DeVos told Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “Let me be clear: Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law. Period.”

But after another Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, pointed out that federal law is “somewhat foggy” surrounding LGBT student protections, DeVos simply repeated that schools must follow federal law, adding, “Discrimination in any form is wrong.”

Merkley pressed again, asking DeVos point-blank whether private and charter schools receiving federal funds under Trump’s budget proposal could discriminate against students based on sexual orientation or religion.

She said the department “is not going to be issuing decrees” on civil rights protections.

Merkley asked Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who chairs the subcommittee, to note that DeVos refused to directly answer the question.

DeVos came under fire last month for a nearly identical exchange, refusing to tell a House Appropriations subcommittee whether she would block federal voucher funding to private schools that discriminate against LGBT students. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., told DeVos, “To take the federal government’s responsibility out of that is just appalling and sad.”

DeVos’ spokeswoman later said the controversy stemmed from a “fundamental misunderstanding” by lawmakers about what the secretary was talking about. On Tuesday, DeVos sought to clarify that she wasn’t talking about a specific voucher proposal. “It is really appropriations language,” she said.

During the nearly two-and-a-half-hour hearing, DeVos defended the Trump administration’s proposed $9 billion cut to education, saying the planned 13% reduction in funding may seem shocking, but it’s necessary.

“I’ve seen the headlines, and I understand those figures are alarming for many,” DeVos told lawmakers, according to her prepared testimony. The proposed 2018 budget, she said, refocuses the department on supporting states and school districts in their efforts to provide “high-quality education” to all students while simplifying college funding, among other efforts.

Overall, Trump plans to eliminate or phase out 22 programs that the administration says are “duplicative, ineffective, or are better supported through state, local, or private efforts.”

The administration wants to cut teacher training, vocational training and before- and after-school programs, among others. It also wants to eliminate subsidized loans and a new loan forgiveness program for students who commit to public service after college. Trump wants to funnel the savings into several school choice proposals — including a $250 million fund for expanding public funding of private-school vouchers.

The proposal faces an uphill battle in Congress. On Tuesday, Blunt, a Republican, called it “a difficult budget request to defend,” saying deep cuts to programs like after-school would be “all but impossible” to get through the committee.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said Trump’s budget request “can be summed up in one word: abysmal.”

As she has recently, DeVos on Tuesday took a swat at past federal efforts to reform education, noting that discretionary spending at the U.S. Department of Education quadrupled between 1989 and 2016, from $17.1 billion to $68.3 billion.

The “seemingly endless” reform efforts, she said, have been top-down and have generated “more publicity than results,” failing to close long-standing achievement gaps between white, middle-class students and their low-income and minority peers. They’ve also produced disappointing results for high school graduation and college completion rates.

While achievement has been mixed in recent decades, high school graduation and college completion rates have actually risen, sometimes sharply. Federal data show that in 2015, the graduation rate for public high school students rose to a record-high 83%. U.S. colleges also awarded more degrees — 961,167, up 35.2% from a decade earlier.

A GOP mega-donor and four-time chair of the Michigan Republican Party, DeVos previously ran an organization that promotes private-school choice. DeVos last month called school choice critics “flat-earthers” and said expanding families’ educational choices is a way to bring U.S. education “out of the Stone Age and into the future.”

On Tuesday, she said more choice would help families in more ways than one, noting that when parents decide proactively which school their child should attend, “there’s a lot more engagement, naturally, as a result of that.”

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