What’s Going on at Education? Teacher Strikes, School Discipline Policies and For-Profit Influence

American Oversight is investigating the influence that Secretary DeVos has allowed for-profit and other outside entities to have on the department and its policies.

What We’ve Found:

Truancy at the Department of Education:

In 2017, American Oversight obtained copies of calendars for Secretary DeVos’ and a number of other senior political appointees at the department. Our analysis found that Secretary DeVos was frequently absent from work – taking 11 long weekends during her first six months in office.

What We’re Asking For:

In light of recent teacher strikes, school shootings, and policy changes, we submitted a series of FOIAs to find out how the department is addressing these issues and whether outside special interests are playing a role.

Questionable Appointees:

DeVos appointed Robert Eitel, former for-profit institution advocate and lawyer for a company that paid a $30 million dollar settlement over deceptive student lending. We’re asking for his calendars, call logs, recusals, or ethics waivers for him as well as for other senior officials.

Liberty University and For-Profit Influence:

Recently, a report surfaced where Liberty University’s President, Jerry Falwell Jr. claimed that officials at the school have had considerable influence on Education policies. We submitted a FOIA seeking communications to shed light on the relationship between Education and this institution. We’re also asking for records to shed light on the influence that for-profit and online colleges have on the agency and its policy considerations.

Rolling Back of Policies that Protect Students from Fraud:

Reports of Education’s ties to for-profit colleges are emerging during decisions to roll back the Gainful Employment Rule and the Borrower Defense Rule, both of which were designed to protect students from being defrauded by universities and graduating with unmanageable debt. We submitted FOIAs to find out Education’s motives for doing so.

DeVos’ Committee to Address Gun Violence and Discipline Policies:

Secretary DeVos has also drawn criticism following her response to recent school shootings, particularly the Parkland shooting. Even though she was tasked with leading a committee to address gun violence in schools, all the committee achieved in its first months was to consider undoing Obama-era guidance on school discipline that protected marginalized students from facing a disproportionate amount of punishment. We submitted a FOIA to find out what steps the agency is taking to address school discipline policies, including through the committee.

Education’s Responses Teacher Strikes:

As teachers in several states across the nation have gone on strike in recent months, the State Policy Network – an outside interest group with ties to DeVos – has quietly engaged in a campaign to discredit those strikes. At the same time, DeVos’ public statements on this issue have mirrored State Policy Network talking points. We’re seeking records to shed light on this relationship and Education’s stance on the strikes.