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DeVos Is Sued By 17 States; Richard Spencer And Colleges; Race and Student Loans

Oct 21, 2017

Our weekly roundup of education news and happenings may make you uncomfortable, but please don't ban our inconvenient truths.

A Mississippi district bans To Kill A Mockingbird

The classic 1960 novel was pulled from a junior high reading list, according to the Biloxi Sun Herald, because some were made "uncomfortable" by the use of the n-word. The decision was roundly criticized. The book was temporarily banned last year from schools in Accomack County, Virginia.

New Mexico restores science education standards

The state of New Mexico announced that it would restore classroom references to evolution, human-caused climate change and the 4.6-billion-year age of the Earth. The information, all part of mainstream scientific consensus, had been stripped from the state's draft science education standards released last month. They were restored after a public outcry.

Black graduates, especially, struggle to repay student loans

The typical African-American who took out student loans in 2003-2004 owed even more money, not less, after a dozen years. Nearly half of all African-American borrowers ultimately defaulted on their loans, compared with just 29 percent of all students. The defaulters included 75 percent of African-Americans who left for-profit colleges.

Those are the stark results of an analysis of new federal student loan data from the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

They found that even when black students earn a bachelor's degree, on average they make no progress at all paying down their loans for more than a decade. Loan balances can balloon in this way because of missed payments, penalties or times when payments are suspended because of economic hardship.

Ben Miller of the Center for American Progress added that the latest numbers may be even worse than the period covered by this data.

17 states and D.C. sue Betsy DeVos over for-profit college rules

In a suit filed Tuesday, a group of Democratic attorneys general are challenging the education secretary's decision to suspend the "gainful employment" rule.

Previously in July, a similar group filed suit over the secretary's rollback of the "borrower defense to repayment" rule. Both rules were aimed at predatory or fraudulent for-profit colleges.

As we've reported:

  • The "gainful employment" rule sanctions individual programs at colleges and universities based on how many students are able to pay back their loans.
  • The "borrower defense to repayment" rule smooths the way for students to get their loans forgiven if their college is found to engage in fraudulent behavior, a situation that has befallen tens of thousands of students at Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute, among others, in the last few years.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the department, said in a statement: "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."

New Education Department appointee is a foe of federal regulations

Politico reports that Hans Bader, who until last week worked at a libertarian think tank, will join the department's Office of General Counsel. He previously served in the department's Office of Civil Rights in the George W. Bush administration. He is on record as a critic of the stepped-up enforcement of civil rights by Obama's education department, particularly its actions on campus sexual assault. DeVos has thrown out these Obama-era guidelines and the department is now writing new ones.

Florida declares a state of emergency over campus appearance by white nationalist

Richard Spencer, who was a headliner at the alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly, rented a hall for a speech at the University of Florida this week, rather than being invited by a campus-affiliated group. Extra security for Thursday's appearance was estimated to cost the university more than a half-million dollars. Gov. Rick Scott declared a countywide state of emergency in order to coordinate a security plan. Hecklers shouted Spencer down; at least three people were arrested in connection with the protests.

Spencer has similar upcoming appearances at the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University. These visits have raised debate and led to legal wrangling over hate speech vs. free speech at public and private universities.

Newark schools have improved, says Harvard study

A new analysis says reading scores have risen for fourth- through eighth-graders. Most of the improvement, said researchers, came from closing low-performing schools. The city's schools have been scrutinized nationwide since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million in 2010.

Library fines erased for New York City children

Another bright spot this week: A philanthropic foundation has contributed $2.25 million to erase the public library fines of children under 18 in all five boroughs of New York City. An estimated 1 in 5 children's library cards had been blocked because of overdue books. Now they can check out titles such as To Kill A Mockingbird — in audiobook, ebook or hardcover formats.

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