One Congressman’s Desperate Final Attempt with For-Profit Schools

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Rep. John Kline (R-Minn) is apparently using budget legislation to prevent the Department of Education from instituting its Gainful Employment rules, which will prevent for-profit colleges who saddle students with too much debt from taking advantage of federal financial aid.

According to a piece in Inside Higher Ed:

In an interview in his office… Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that he and three other lawmakers would sponsor an amendment to the continuing resolution legislation that the House could take up as early as today. The measure would bar the Education Department from using any of its appropriated funds in 2011 to promulgate or enforce the gainful employment regulations, which for-profit college officials have fought on a variety of fronts.

Kline, who spoke with reporters along with Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said the lawmakers were confident that the House would pass the legislation, and hoped that that vote would send a “strong signal” to “the administration and our friends in the Senate” that “somebody ought to take another look at” the wisdom and fairness of the rules. “We have an opportunity right now to make a statement.”

And what would that statement be (“I am a tool of one of America’s most disreputable business sectors”)? As I’ve pointed out before, Kline’s opposition to further rules on how for-profit colleges do business is quite clear. His reasoning, however, is vague. Why would taking this action against the Department of Education be good policy? How would this make things better?

It may be simply a delay tactic, however. According to an article by John Lauerman at Bloomberg News:

The House proposed amendment would block funding for the gainful employment rule for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and would provide more time to change the department’s plan, Kline said. The amendment also would stop government rules scheduled to go into effect July 1 requiring for-profit colleges to notify the department before offering new courses, he said.

Kline’s actions wouldn’t actually change the Gainful Employment rules, which fall under the power of the executive branch of government; it would simply cut off funding so the Department of Education couldn’t successfully implement them.

The Education Trust’s Kati Haycock sent a letter all members of the U.S. House of Representatives urging them to oppose Kline’s tactics.

The “wisdom and fairness of the rules,” Haycock implies, are not really a matter of debate. Under the proposed rules proprietary schools would be ineligible for federal financial aid if they gave students debt above 12 percent of their income and if their students had loan repayment rates below 35 percent.

“Programs that can’t meet this extraordinarily low bar,” Haycock writes, “plainly provide little or no benefit to their students or taxpayers.”

For-profit colleges make most of their revenue, as much as 90 percent, from federal grants and loans. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer