In advance of this week’s confirmation hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on Monday sent Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, a litany of questions that raise concerns about the billionaire’s qualifications for the job.
“The Secretary’s actions can make a real difference in whether or not Americans can get a fair shot in reaching the American Dream,” Warren wrote in the letter to DeVos. “Given that you have virtually no experience with these important responsibilities, your testimony … will be critical to assessing you readiness for the position.”
Democrats have been pressing Republican leaders on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to delay DeVos’s Jan. 11 hearing until the Office of Government Ethics reviews her background and financial investments for conflicts of interest. But Republicans say they have no plans to postpone the hearing.
Liberal lawmakers, teacher’s unions and advocacy groups worry that DeVos’ political contributions to expand charter schools and taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools will cloud her judgement in overseeing public schools. Many are also concerned that she has no stated positions on higher education, which has become a considerable responsibility for the agency since the Obama administration kicked the banks out of the federal student loan program.
Among the questions in Warren’s 16-page letter are several addressing the expansive federal direct loan program, with its field of contractors managing payments and collecting on overdue debts. The senator has been a vocal opponent of the government making money off students’ loans, a concern raised by Trump during the presidential campaign. She is also wary of private lenders re-entering the federal student loan program as many on Wall Street anticipate.
In the letter, Warren asks:
Do you agree with me and with President-elect Trump that it is fundamentally unfair for the federal government to making a profit off the backs of students? Will you support reducing the interest rates on federal student loans?
Do you believe there is statutory authority to re-privatize the student loan program? If so, where is this authority? If not, will you oppose efforts by Wall Street lobbyists to pass legislation that privatizes the student loan program? Do you support calls from student loan industry lobbyists to auction off the federally-held student loan portfolio? If so, why?
Will you commit to establishing specific metrics by which you will evaluate how well student loan servicers are keeping borrowers out of delinquency and default, and to holding them accountable to such metrics? Will you establish a transparent process for evaluating the quality of customer service that student loan servicers provide borrowers, which includes evaluating how well servicers are getting student loan borrowers into the repayment and forgiveness programs that are best for them?
Another one of Warren’s concerns is DeVos’ plans to regulate for-profit colleges, a sector mired in widespread allegations of fraud and predatory lending. The election of Trump, who campaigned on reducing regulation across industries, lifted shares of publicly traded for-profit colleges as investors banked a wholesale roll back of regulations aimed at the industry.
Warren and many consumer groups wonder whether DeVos, a proponent of for-profit K-12 education, will continue the current administration’s level of oversight. The Education Department has enacted stringent employment and student loan rules that for-profit colleges say are designed to kneecap the sector, but others argue are meant to protect students from schools that lie about their job prospects and the rigor of their education.
What are your specific plans for enforcing the Gainful Employment rules as finalized in July 2015 without amendment or delay? Will you enforce the rule as written by cutting off aid to schools that are leaving their students with unaffordable debts and without meaningful prospects in the job market?
Will you expand resources for enforcement and oversight of predatory colleges that defraud students or leave them with expensive and useless degrees? What other specific actions will you take as Secretary to hold these schools accountable?
Can you guarantee that every student who is defrauded by a school during your tenure will see every penny of debt relief they are entitled to under the law? Will you commit to granting full debt relief to students who are defrauded by Corinthian Colleges?
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