Welcome to this week’s edition of our national education news roundup.
DeVos appoints current student loan company CEO to head student loan agency
Wayne A. Johnson will be the new head of Federal Student Aid after James Runcie abruptly resigned last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced this week. FSA is the agency responsible for administering $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans from 42 million borrowers, plus other aid programs for millions of college students.
As not mentioned in the department’s press release, and first reported by Buzzfeed, Johnson is currently the CEO of Reunion Financial Services Corporation, a private student loan company.
Liz Hill, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, provided NPR with a statement that read in part: “Dr. Johnson has 30 years of experience in the private sector and is going to be a tremendous asset to the Department and to FSA’s customers […] Wayne knows this industry inside and out and has seen first-hand the benefits of serving students and helping them meet their financial and educational goals. This is just another reason why we are so excited to have him on the team as we work to put students’ needs first.”
The head of FSA is an appointment, not requiring Senate confirmation. It’s unclear why Johnson did not resign before his appointment was announced. Hill said in the statement, “This goes without saying, but he will separate from the company should he join FSA.”
New federal report says student loan borrowers are being denied their rights
Many “borrowers attempting to invoke their rights under federal law … point to a range of student loan industry practices that delay, defer, or deny access to critical consumer protections,” the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal watchdog agency, reported this week. The report reviewed thousands of consumer complaints from student borrowers between March of last year and February of this year. Over that time, the number of complaints more than tripled.
The report particularly focused on troubles from people enrolled, or trying to enroll, in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that cancels the student loans of people employed in the government or for a nonprofit for at least 10 years. The first group of borrowers is supposed to get their loans forgiven starting this fall, but what the report describes as “servicing breakdowns” is preventing many from enrolling and making progress toward that goal.
DeVos named in civil rights probe
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a Congressionally authorized independent watchdog group, announced a two year investigation of federal civil rights enforcement to be completed by 2019.
Its statement cited President Trump’s proposed budget cuts, and “changing … priorities” as reasons to be concerned about a “dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country.”
DeVos was the only government official named in the statement, which read in part, “These proposed cuts are particularly troubling in light of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ repeated refusal in Congressional testimony and other public statements to commit that the Department would enforce federal civil rights laws.”
As we’ve reported, DeVos has been questioned repeatedly — and has repeatedly deflected questions — about whether she would uphold the rights of LGBT students at private schools that receive public money, such as vouchers. In the United States, most private schools have religious affiliations.
Wealthy, white communities are seceding to form new school districts
And their secession is taking money from poorer schools, a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild finds.
Since 2000, 71 communities have attempted to secede from their school districts following this pattern; 47 have succeeded.
Colorado firearms training for teachers
At some schools in Colorado, teachers are undergoing firearms training. The training, offered by an Ohio-based pro-gun group known as Faculty Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER), allows “teachers, administrators, and other personnel to stop school violence rapidly” and “administer medical aid where necessary,” the BBC reports.
FASTER was organized in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 teachers and elementary students were killed. Colorado law allows firearms to be carried in public places provided they are in plain view.
Dallas schools aim for diversity
The Dallas school system, one of the most segregated in the country, is making great efforts to integrate, The New York Times reports.
The district plans to open more than 35 new schools in the next three years, with themes such as single-sex education, science, the arts and dual-language programs, in the hope of enticing more white and college-educated families. They are also taking the unusual step of reserving seats at some schools for non-poor students, even those who come from outside the district.
The district went from a majority white population before desegregation in 1960 to a 93 percent black and Hispanic student body today. Dallas is one of a few cities pushing for integration, as nationwide, public schools are more segregated than they were in 1970.
Stephens College creates first women’s ‘esports’ team
Video games played as a spectator sport, known as esports, are on the rise, and Stephens College wants to be ahead of the curve. This fall the small, private, women’s college in Columbia, Mo., will have its first all-women’s collegiate varsity esports team in the nation.
“There isn’t any reason that women shouldn’t be competitive in esports, just as they’re competitive at any other sport,” the president of Stephens College, Dianne Lynch, told KOMU. The school will offer esports scholarships too.