If you had money, influence, and the ability and desire to affect students’ lives, what would you do?
This week we got two starkly different examples of how people in that exact situation are using their powers.
On one hand, LeBron James opened a school aimed at supporting at-risk youth. And on the other hand, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos relaxed protections for students in debt who were scammed by for-profit colleges.
LeBron for EdSec?
LeBron James’ venture into the education sector has been cause for celebration. James opened his “I Promise School” in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, for 240 third and fourth graders on Monday, with plans to expand each year until it houses students in grades 1-8 by 2022.
The jitters before the first day of school are real right now!!! Tomorrow is going to be one of the greatest moments (if not the greatest) of my life when we open the #IPROMISE School. This skinny kid from Akron who missed 83 days of school in the 4th grade had big dreams… https://t.co/PwmRaHRfng
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 29, 2018
The Akron public school was created with at-risk youth in mind and will be made up of students who are a few reading levels behind, according to USA Today.
read this on LeBron's school. then read it again. This is incredible, man. and doesn't appear to be one of those celebrity boutique schools built on respectability politics. Chills, man. pic.twitter.com/9zXvyRVK2h
— David Dennis Jr. (@DavidDTSS) July 30, 2018
Celebrities, political leaders, and just about anyone with a social media account haven’t been able to stop gushing over everything the school will offer its students and how it will change their lives.
.@BarackObama and I are so proud of @KingJames and @IPROMISESchool. Kids in Akron and across the US are lucky to have you as a role model on and off the court. Keep using your platform for good and giving our kids a chance to shoot for the stars. 🌟🏀 #ReachHigher #BetterMakeRoom pic.twitter.com/hyS6UM2A7b
— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) July 31, 2018
This school Lebron James opened, I have no words. It’s the most stunning act of actual doing and leading and setting a true example that I’ve ever seen. The amount of lives that will be touched brings me to tears. Bravo @KingJames
— Kim 🌹 (@KG_NYK) August 1, 2018
People are truly underestimating how incredible It is that Lebron is doing this in the PUBLIC school system that is sooooo key and important
— AV🌻 (@_alexxxandra__) August 1, 2018
LeBron’s legacy is so much greater than basketball. He is changing lives. The fact that he’s somehow managed to be a better person than a basketball player is nothing short of amazing pic.twitter.com/6KeVYEnPTz
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) July 30, 2018
The basketball star’s achievement has shown people that he could be capable of being even more — and even led some to speculate whether he has the time in his schedule to serve as the new Secretary of Education.
Tale of Two Riches
LeBron James uses his fortune to open up a public school for at-risk children
— Maggie Jordan: (@MaggieJordanACN) July 31, 2018
Lebron James has done more for education than Betsy DeVos, more for charity than Donald Trump, and more for inner cities than Ben Carson.
Maybe Washington should shut up and dribble.
— Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) July 31, 2018
Betsy DeVos has a net worth of $5.1 Billion. LeBron James has a net worth of $440 Million. He puts his money toward community and children’s education, she and her fam have 10 yachts https://t.co/pwwLYpSal5
— Jacobi (@JacobPFleming) August 1, 2018
As a teacher, I would rather have Lebron as my Secretary of Education over Betsy Devos.
— Chris Dyal (@DyalItUp) August 1, 2018
Betsy supports for-profit colleges
Meanwhile, while LeBron was preparing for the first day at his new school, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos published new rules to the Borrower Defense Program, a government program from the Obama era that helps students who were misled or deceived about their loans by their schools get relief from their student loans.
$13 billion is getting cut from the Department of Education’s spending — most of which went to debt relief for defrauded students, according to ABC News.
The new rules make it harder for students to get help with debts they incurred at scammy for-profit schools.
Defrauded students will now have to show “that schools had the intent to harm them, with misleading advertising, a reckless disregard for the truth or financial harm” to qualify to receive debt relief, according to NPR.
“In ways big and small, the new version makes it harder for students to win debt forgiveness,” the Washington Post says.
The Obama administration had cracked down on “for-profit colleges that critics say prey on vulnerable students,” and the new Trump-era rules reverse that effort, according to the Post.
So why did the Dept. of Education slide those protections back?
Mary Clare Amselem, a policy analyst from the conservative Heritage Foundation, told NPR that the previous regulations were too broad. “Basically, any students could raise their hand and qualify for free money,” Amselem said.
But Ashley Harrington, a lawyer at the Center for Responsible Lending who was involved in the negotiations for the new rules, said the new regulations put a greater burden on students and lessen the pressure on for-profit schools.
“It puts so much responsibility on students and students alone and on no other piece of this puzzle,” Harrington told NPR. “This new version reads like a road map for how for-profits can continue to behave badly and avoid accountability.”
And the Project on Predatory Student Lending, a clinic at Harvard Law School’s Legal Services Center, has done extensive research on fraud committed by for-profit colleges against students. They’ve found that these practices have harmed African-American students at higher rates than other students, saying the for-profit sector is “disproportionately responsible for racial disparities in education debt.”
Joel Ferguson, 40, from Kennewick, Washington, has dealt with tricky student loan debt firsthand. In 2010, he began taking IT courses offered by the University of Phoenix after seeing ads encouraging job seekers to sign up for courses geared toward career success. But he says he has seen “zero success in obtaining professional employment in my education field,” he told Youth Radio in an interview.
He believes what the Trump administration and the Dept. of Education have been introducing borders on criminal.
“This year my income tax refund was garnished to go to pay down my student loan debt — which, as of that payment, was about $73,000, up from $42,000 after completing the course, which had been locked at rates from 2.1-3.5 percent under Obama-era rules for student loan rates,” Ferguson said. “Each quarter is an individual loan with its own rate. This was fine to me when the rates were locked, but now it represents something which by all common sense is criminal.”
Ferguson says he’s been wrestling with how to deal with his debt. “As recently as this February, I pondered how I could resolve this student loan debt, which was made worse by Trump through an executive order to legitimize the sale of my defaulted student loans to third-party lenders at the same rate as defaulted credit cards,” he says.
His student loan debt, combined with his difficulty to find work even with his associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, caused Ferguson to fall into despair for some time, he says. He now worries for those who will be impacted by these new regulations: “The news that DeVos has ended a student loan forgiveness program makes this feeling of mediocrity even worse.”
In a statement, the Department of Education says students taking college classes “are adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions if they have access to relevant and reliable data about program outcomes.”
The statement goes on to say the new rules will “encourage students — including those who pay cash or use other forms of credit to pay for college — to seek remedies directly from institutions that have committed acts or omissions that constitute misrepresentation.”
The proposal for the new regulations hasn’t actually gone into effect yet — it will open for public comment and would apply to loans given out on or after July 1, 2019.
Some Twitter users disagree with DeVos and voiced their concerns on how the regulations would impact students.
Thousands of students were defrauded by for-profit colleges.
Betsy Devos announced cutting $13 billion in aid for defrauded students.
Betsy Devos has stock in some of those for-profit colleges & many in her cabinet worked for them.
This IS the SWAMP.
— Bishop Talbert Swan (@TalbertSwan) July 27, 2018
The Department of Education is supposed to stand with students, not the executives of for-profit colleges that defrauded thousands of Americans who were just trying to better their lives. These students deserve debt relief. https://t.co/g1LlXGPZZg
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) July 29, 2018
This can't be goo for students. Terrific for the uneithical banks though
— Kelly (@kellyconnor0826) July 27, 2018
She needs to be gone – she has no experience in education and continues to hurt our students in every situation. She should be kicked out before she does any more damage. Another one of those “best people” tRump has surrounded himself with. Adios!
— Susan H (@SisterSusanH) July 27, 2018
In an unsurprising but horrific move, Betsy DeVos is trying to roll back loan forgiveness rules that help defrauded students resolve debts and move on w/ their lives.
This is our Dept of Education choosing to side w/ for-profit colleges over our students. https://t.co/3FLVo3ll82
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) July 26, 2018
Secretary DeVos continues to put profits ahead of our students' educations.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Students deserve better.https://t.co/svNp38FimK
— Sherrod Brown (@SherrodBrown) July 30, 2018
And Ferguson has only had good things to say about James: “I applaud LeBron James for his generosity to the community in which he was brought up.”
So, some are, yes, calling for James to replace DeVos as Secretary of Education.
When can we replace Betsy Devos with Lebron James?
— donaldtrumpnewstoday (@irishrygirl) July 31, 2018
damn lebron is really out here doing more for our education system, than the country’s own secretary of ed
— JJ 🤘🏽 (@JocelyneJaime) July 31, 2018