AOC hits back after Betsy DeVos warns ‘free college’ push is ‘socialist takeover of higher education’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos slammed calls to “cancel” student debt or make college free, making a case this week against what she called a “socialist takeover” of education — and prompting a fiery rebuke from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

DeVos, who almost certainly will be replaced once President-elect Biden is inaugurated, has been a lightning rod for controversy since her tenure began in 2017; she’s pushed deregulation and aimed to increase due process on college campuses, to applause from conservatives and harsh criticism from Democrats.

But with an incoming administration likely to take the Department of Education in a sharply different direction, one of President Trump’s longest-serving Cabinet secretaries made one last case against “total government control” of higher education Tuesday at the 2020 Federal Student Aid Training Conference. 

“Policies should never entice students into greater debt. Nor should they put taxpayer dollars at greater risk. There are too many politicians today who support policy that does both,” DeVos said. “Still more advance the truly insidious notion of government gift giving. We’ve heard shrill calls to ‘cancel,’ to ‘forgive,’ to ‘make it all free.’ Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is: wrong.”

BETSY DEVOS’ BIG IDEA: BUNDING STUDENTS, RATHER THAN SYSTEMS FOR SCHOOL CHOICE

She continued: “The campaign for ‘free college’ is a matter of total government control. Make no mistake: it is a socialist takeover of higher education. Now, depending on your personal politics, some of you might not find that notion as scary as I do. But mark my words: none of you would like the way it will work.”

She added that college counselors could turn into essentially “rationers” of “state-approved higher-education options.” Students, DeVos warned, might not be eligible to attend certain schools or degree programs. DeVos also said that there may be cases in which a “quota for ‘free college’ students is full” and counselors are forced to tell students “that they now have to pay full price.”

“Ultimately, nothing is ‘free.’ Somebody, somewhere pays the bill,” she said. “And the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy—and in public policy writ large—will either break our already fragile economy, or it will unleash an age of achievement and prosperity the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., reacted on Twitter to DeVos’ remarks, mocking the education secretary’s comments.

“Tuition-free public college is a dangerous socialist takeover of higher ed, as opposed to the far superior capitalist takeover of higher ed, which reliably buries millions of Americans in trillions of dollars in debt & graduates them into low paying jobs without good healthcare,” the “Squad” congresswoman wrote.

Biden’s campaign website advocates several reforms related to higher-education. These include eliminating tuition for all students attending public colleges and universities whose families have a household income of less than $125,000, improved student loan forgiveness for public servants, significantly cutting student loan payments to 5% of discretionary income over $25,000, and zero for those making less than $25,000. 

During the Democrats’ 

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Outgoing Education secretary Betsy DeVos says free college amounts to a ‘socialist takeover’

In a veiled swing at President-elect Joe Biden’s education plans, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday blasted the push for free college as a “socialist takeover of higher education” that could damage the nation’s economy.

Speaking at an online conference hosted by the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office, DeVos did not mention Biden by name. But she railed against “politicians” who have issued “shrill calls” to cancel federal student debt or make college free.

“Make no mistake: It is a socialist takeover of higher education,” DeVos said. “Now, depending on your personal politics, some of you might not find that notion as scary as I do. But mark my words: None of you would like the way it will work.”

DeVos has long opposed free college proposals and has been accused of undermining federal programs that allow some borrowers to get their student loans forgiven. A federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court in 2019 after finding that she violated a court order to halt the collection of loan payments from borrowers applying for forgiveness.

Biden, by contrast, says he wants to make public colleges and universities free for families that earn less than $125,000 a year. His education plan would expand existing loan forgiveness programs, and he has backed proposals to cancel $10,000 in federal student debt for all borrowers as part of a coronavirus relief effort.

DeVos’ speech focused on her agency’s recent work and on what she called the “insidious notion of government gift giving.” It did not address lingering questions around pandemic relief for student borrowers.

The Trump administration has paused payments through the end of December, but DeVos has not said if the moratorium will be extended again.

DeVos argued that free college would place an unfair burden on taxpayers, requiring Americans who do not pursue college to “pay the bills” for those who do. College counselors, she added, would simply become “rationers” who allocate “state-approved higher education options.”

“If the politicians proposing free college today get their way, just watch our colleges and universities begin to resemble a failing K-12 school, with the customer service of the DMV to boot,” she said.

Free college has been proposed in a variety of forms as a way to make higher education affordable for all Americans. Dozens of versions have been implemented in cities and states across the U.S., and calls for a federal program gained momentum during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Biden’s plan was adopted from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a prominent advocate for free college. The proposal, which would require action by Congress, calls on the federal government to partner with states to split the cost.

When Sanders asked DeVos about free college during her 2017 Senate confirmation, DeVos argued that “nothing is truly free,” an idea that she repeated in her speech Tuesday.

“Somebody, somewhere pays the bill,” she said. “And the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy — and in public policy writ large —

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Opinion | How Betsy DeVos Has Influenced Education Policy’s Future

Measured solely by policy accomplishments, Betsy DeVos, one of Donald Trump’s longest-serving cabinet officials, was a flop in her four years as secretary of education.

Early on, her efforts to move a federal voucher program through a Republican-controlled Congress more concerned with taxes and deregulation repeatedly fell short. This year, she was forced to abandon a directive ordering states to redirect coronavirus funds to private schools after three federal judges ruled against her.

And significant pieces of Obama-era civil rights guidance that she rescinded — moves meant to protect transgender students, for instance, or address racially disproportionate school discipline — will be immediately restored by the incoming Biden administration.

Though Ms. DeVos has been mostly stymied, both by Trumpism’s policy indifference and progressive opposition, her legacy will still be far-reaching and long-lasting. This is not a result of what she made, but of what she broke: a bipartisan federal consensus around testing and charters that extended from the George H.W. Bush administration through the end of the Obama era.

For progressives, this shift hasn’t necessarily been bad news. In response to Ms. DeVos’s polarizing influence, moderate Democrats including President-elect Joe Biden recommitted to teachers unions and adopted more skeptical positions on school choice that were out of the question just a few years ago. Mr. Biden has pledged to exclude for-profit charter schools from federal funding, and he has proposed making larger investments in public education by using Title I statutes to double federal support for schools serving low-income students.

Yet Ms. DeVos has also elevated the education policy agenda of the far right, giving voice and legitimacy to a campaign to fundamentally dismantle public education. That campaign, pursued for the past few decades only in deep-red states, and often perceived as belonging to the libertarian fringe, has become the de facto agenda of the Republican Party.

So, while it is true that the Biden administration will swiftly reverse President Trump’s executive orders and administrative guidance from the Department of Education, Mr. Biden’s education secretary will still have to contend with extreme ideas that have suddenly entered the mainstream.

More than three decades ago, conventional Republicans and centrist Democrats signed on to an unwritten treaty. Conservatives agreed to mute their push for private school vouchers, their preference for religious schools and their desire to slash spending on public school systems. In return, Democrats effectively gave up the push for school integration and embraced policies that reined in teachers unions.

Together, led by federal policy elites, Republicans and Democrats espoused the logic of markets in the public sphere, expanding school choice through publicly funded charter schools. Competition, both sides agreed, would strengthen schools. And the introduction of charters, this contingent believed, would empower parents as consumers by even further untethering school enrollment from family residence.

The bipartisan consensus also elevated the role of student tests in evaluating schools. The first President Bush ushered in curricular standards in 1989 when he gathered the nation’s governors, including Bill Clinton of Arkansas, for a

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Education Secretary Betsy DeVos undid Obama policy. Who’ll Biden pick?

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The President-elect says he wants a government as diverse as America when he enters the White House. Here are some of his Executive Branch picks.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — Back in January 2017, Betsy DeVos, then President Donald Trump’s nominee for education secretary, told lawmakers at her confirmation hearing that the threat of grizzly bears in Wyoming justified the national push to equip schools with guns. She was responding to a question from Sen. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, who’d made gun control a priority after the 2012 massacre of schoolchildren in Sandy Hook. 

DeVos’s gaffe, which garnered a slew of memes and a spoof on “Saturday Night Live,” became a metaphor for her tenure as education secretary. It also contributed to her status as the most unpopular member of Trump’s already-controversial cabinet. DeVos won confirmation by a literal hair, after all, thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote. 

DeVos, a conservative billionaire philanthropist, went on to clinch her unpopularity with her advocacy for school choice. In her view, public education money should follow students to whatever learning model their parents prefer – whether it’s a traditional public school, a charter school, a private school or a home school. 

Overall, however, DeVos didn’t accomplish much of her school-choice agenda. Her hallmark “education freedom” campaign, which sought to create a national private-school voucher program, didn’t come to fruition. Congress repeatedly killed that proposal, which in its latest iteration sought to allocate $5 billion toward tax-credit scholarships for private school.

“If we fast-forward 10 years and look back at this period, we’re not going to see much,” said Dale Chu, a senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute, a right-leaning education think tank. 

DeVos did convince Congress to expand 529 plans, enabling the state-sponsored college savings accounts to cover private-school tuition. She got lawmakers to reauthorize a program providing private-school vouchers to students in Washington, D.C., too. 

“She has really tried to make the case that as education secretary her job is to work with schools of all stripes,” said Lindsey Burke, who directs the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank. “Public education means education of the public and for the public – not just traditional public education.”

Teachers unions and civil-rights groups, including the NAACP, had a different take. 

“She came into that position with one purpose in mind: to destroy public education,” said Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, noting public schools enroll 90% of the country’s schoolchildren. 

Undoing Obama-era guidance

Where DeVos did gain traction was in her efforts to reverse a suite of policies from President Barack Obama’s administration that she felt had given the federal government an outsize role in education. Many of those policies pertained to civil rights. 

She axed guidelines meant to reduce racial disparities in student discipline rates, for example, arguing they made campuses less safe. She also rescinded regulations requiring schools to provide facilities accommodating transgender students, saying she wanted to reduce federal

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Betsy DeVos bashes student debt forgiveness, free college movement

Biden has said that canceling at least a portion of the $1.6 trillion in student debt held by 44 million Americans is part of his economic recovery plan. He has supported at least $10,000 in federal loan forgiveness, while other leaders in the Democratic Party, including Sens. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), are calling for the cancellation of up to $50,000.

“We’ve heard shrill calls to cancel, to forgive, to make it all free,” DeVos said in her speech. “Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is: Wrong.”

Since taking office, DeVos has been accused by liberal lawmakers and consumer groups of going out of her way to limit loan forgiveness through existing federal programs.

The secretary imposed a methodology that curbed debt cancellation under a federal program known as “borrower defense to repayment.” That program, which dates to 1994, provides federal loan relief to students whose colleges lied to get them to enroll. DeVos scrapped an Obama-era overhaul of the law that made it easier to seek forgiveness and accused opposing lawmakers of wanting “blanket forgiveness for anyone who raised their hand.”

Biden campaign national policy director Stef Feldman said in October that the Obama-era update of the borrower defense rule would be revived. That would require lengthy rulemaking at the Education Department. But in the meantime, a Biden administration could clear out the backlog of borrower defense claims using a more generous methodology for approval and loan forgiveness.

On Tuesday, DeVos took aim at another popular policy backed by Biden: Tuition-free college. She called the policy “a matter of total government control” and “a socialist takeover of higher education,” with ominous predictions about how it will reshape the sector.

“None of you would like the way it will work,” DeVos told financial aid professionals on Tuesday. “You won’t like being forced to tell students they aren’t eligible to attend your school, or that they aren’t allowed to choose the degree program they want, or that your quota for ‘free college’ students is full and that they now have to pay full price.”

DeVos warned financial aid officers that they will be “forced to merely oversee rationing of state-approved higher-education options.” Colleges and universities, she said, will “begin to resemble a failing K-12 school, with the customer service of the DMV to boot.”

It is a striking position on a policy that has garnered bipartisan support in recent decades. There are 30 states that cover tuition at community colleges or universities, part of a national movement to use higher education to strengthen the local economy. College Promise programs, as tuition-free initiatives are commonly known, have resonated with elected leaders across the political spectrum.

Biden has pledged to make such programs universal by covering tuition at public colleges and universities for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000. He has proposed that the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost and states contribute the rest, a policy that could be a heavy

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DeVos knocks free college push as ‘socialist takeover of higher education’

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos knocked the push for free college as a “socialist takeover of higher education” during an online conference Tuesday.



a person wearing a blue shirt: DeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education'


© Bonnie Cash
DeVos knocks free college push as ‘socialist takeover of higher education’

DeVos criticized the push during the Federal Student Aid office’s virtual conference, cautioning that a free college program would ruin the American economy. Her comments regarding the “truly insidious notion of government gift giving” come as President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration looms 50 days away.

“We’ve heard shrill calls to cancel, to forgive, to make it all free,” she said during the conference. “Any innocuous label out there can’t obfuscate what it really is: wrong. The campaign for free college is a matter of total government control.”

“Make no mistake: It is a socialist takeover of higher education,” she continued. “Now, depending on your personal politics, some of you might not find that notion as scary as I do. But mark my words: None of you will like the way it will work.”

The secretary of education has previously voiced her disapproval for the movement and argues that a free college program would put the financial burden on taxpayers, including two-thirds of Americans who do not attend college.

She also asserted that college counselors would instead become “rationers” who will be “forced to merely oversee rationing of state-approved higher education options.”

“If the politicians proposing free college today get their way, just watch our colleges and universities begin to resemble a failing K-12 school, with the customer service of the DMV to boot,” she said during the conference.

Biden has said he wants to have public colleges and universities offer free tuition for families that make less than $125,000 per year, in addition to bolstering loan forgiveness programs. The president-elect has also supported ideas to eliminate $10,000 in federal student debt for all borrowers in a COVID-19 relief measure, The Associated Press reported.

The president-elect’s plan was transformed from progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) free college proposal.

DeVos reiterated her previous comments to Sanders about free college during the conference, saying “nothing is truly free.”

“Somebody, somewhere pays the bill,” she said. “And the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy and in public policy writ large will either break our already fragile economy, or it will unleash an age of achievement and prosperity the likes of which we’ve never seen.”

The secretary of education did not mention whether the Trump administration’s pause of student payments through the end of December would be extended.

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DeVos says free college amounts to a ‘socialist takeover’

In a veiled swing at President-elect Joe Biden’s education plans, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday blasted the push for free college as a “socialist takeover of higher education” that could damage the nation’s economy.

Speaking at an online conference hosted by the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office, DeVos did not mention Biden by name. But she railed against “politicians” who have issued “shrill calls” to cancel federal student debt or make college free.

“Make no mistake: It is a socialist takeover of higher education,” DeVos said. “Now, depending on your personal politics, some of you might not find that notion as scary as I do. But mark my words: None of you would like the way it will work.”

DeVos has long opposed free college proposals and has been accused of undermining federal programs that allow some borrowers to get their student loans forgiven. A federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court in 2019 after finding that she violated a court order to halt the collection of loan payments from borrowers applying for forgiveness.


Biden, by contrast, says he wants to make public colleges and universities free for families that earn less than $125,000 a year. His education plan would expand existing loan forgiveness programs, and he has backed proposals to cancel $10,000 in federal student debt for all borrowers as part of a coronavirus relief effort.

DeVos’ speech focused on her agency’s recent work and on what she called the “insidious notion of government gift giving.” It did not address lingering questions around pandemic relief for student borrowers.

The Trump administration has paused payments through the end of December, but DeVos has not said if the moratorium will be extended again.

DeVos argued that free college would place an unfair burden on taxpayers, requiring Americans who do not pursue college to “pay the bills” for those who do. College counselors, she added, would simply become “rationers” who allocate “state-approved higher education options.”

“If the politicians proposing free college today get their way, just watch our colleges and universities begin to resemble a failing K-12 school, with the customer service of the DMV to boot,” she said.

Free college has been proposed in a variety of forms as a way to make higher education affordable for all Americans. Dozens of versions have been implemented in cities and states across the U.S., and calls for a federal program gained momentum during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Biden’s plan was adopted from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a prominent advocate for free college. The proposal, which would require action by Congress, calls on the federal government to partner with states to split the cost.

When Sanders asked DeVos about free college during her 2017 Senate confirmation, DeVos argued that “nothing is truly free,” an idea that she repeated in her speech Tuesday.

“Somebody, somewhere pays the bill,” she said. “And the bill is coming due. What we do next in education policy — and in public policy writ large —

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The New Secretary of Education Should Actually Listen to Students, Unlike DeVos

Many are also hopeful that the Biden administration will restore several protective measures passed by Barack Obama that defended the rights of marginalized students. During her tenure as the country’s top education official, DeVos signed off on rollbacks of mandates that allowed transgender students to choose which bathroom they use at school, addressed the disproportionate disciplining of Black students, and pressed for diversity in colleges and K-12 classrooms. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Biden has already committed to restoring transgender and gender nonconforming students’ access to sports, bathrooms, and locker rooms in accordance with their gender identity. Student activists plan on pushing Biden to protect the rights of all students, regardless of race, sexuality, or gender.

“I am hoping that the next secretary of education will fight for equal opportunities in schools with predominantly minority students,” Kimberly Martinez, a high school senior and activist with Teens Take Charge in New York City, told Teen Vogue. “I hope that they tackle issues such as underfunding of schools in predominantly low-income Black and Latinx communities, as well as segregation in the public school system.”

Martinez said that in her opinion, one of DeVos’s biggest policy failures was her August 2020 Title IX ruling that reduced schools’ obligations to respond to harassment and assault, and according to activists, will discourage students in K-12 schools and colleges from reporting incidents of sexual violence and impose uniquely unfair and traumatizing procedures against student survivors. On November 5, the gender equality group Equal Rights Advocates sued DeVos and the Department of Education over this ruling, and student activists are hoping the new Department of Education will repeal this mandate.

“Betsy DeVos’s biggest failures as Secretary of Education include rolling back Obama’s guidance and regulations, including those to protect survivors of sexual assault on school campuses, as well as putting an end to the school discipline guidelines made to get rid of the school to prison pipeline,” Martinez explained. “Both of these failures have impacted many students and put them in circumstances where they do not feel safe and protected, which is a huge issue. All students should feel safe in a learning environment.”

Though student activists are hopeful for improvements under Biden, they know his administration won’t automatically solve every problem. The president-elect is significantly less progressive than many student activists want him to be. For example, students in high school and college across the country have spent the year campaigning for schools to remove police officers from campus, with some school districts, like those in Minneapolis and Portland, Oregon, successfully doing so. Given Biden’s plans to allot more money to police once he’s in office, many are doubtful that he will support these efforts. In some cases, Biden may be unable to enact a progressive education policy even if he wants to. His plan to partially forgive student debt hinges on Democratic control of the Senate. 

“Even as the administration changes on January 20, the issues in education will remain the same,” said Green.

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What Biden actually promised about replacing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Biden was at a candidates event in Houston with National Education Association members in July 2019 when he said: “First thing, as president of United States — not a joke — first thing I will do is make sure that the secretary of education is not Betsy DeVos. It is a teacher. A teacher. Promise.”

That promise has led many K-12 teachers from public schools to expect that he would pick an education secretary from their ranks, and many will be disappointed if that doesn’t happen.

Obama’s long-serving education secretary, Arne Duncan, infuriated teachers with school reforms that used standardized test scores as key metrics for evaluating schools and teachers as well as other measures. They are expecting a different education agenda from Biden, whose platform includes big supports for teachers and public schools.

But Biden’s promise of a teacher as education secretary could also mean someone from higher education — even though the word “teacher” usually refers to the K-12 world. Speculation that the nomination might come from the higher education sector was fueled in education circles on Oct. 22, when Stef Feldman, the Biden campaign’s national policy director talked about education issues during a conversation with members of the Education Writers Association.

She said Biden would name “a former public school educator” to succeed DeVos. When asked to clarify whether that would be someone from the K-12 world or higher education, she did not clarify.

(I later asked the Biden camp to clarify; it didn’t.)

Since then, names from higher education are being tossed into the mix of potential candidates in an increasingly frenzied conversation about just who Biden will choose to revamp and run the U.S. Education Department. There are more than a dozen names that are mentioned in the press as being under consideration for education secretary — even though it is unclear what “under consideration” means.

Biden’s camp has been collecting lists of candidate names from people — and getting unsolicited advice as well. But being included on a list doesn’t mean they are under serious consideration by Biden and his team, including his wife, Jill, a longtime community college professor, whom many Biden watchers say will have a say in the decision.

Education isn’t traditionally a particularly contentious Cabinet post, but it was in 2016, when President Trump picked DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who was confirmed by the Senate after Vice President Mike Pence broke a tie, for the first time in U.S. history. DeVos famously referred to public schools as a “dead end.”

Obama’s choice of education secretary was controversial as well. After Obama won election in 2008, he chose renowned educator Linda Darling-Hammond as his education transition chief and many thought she would be named education secretary. Opponents who feared she would not go along with reforms that sought to run public schools like businesses waged a public campaign by accusing her of being in the pocket of teachers’ unions, which she wasn’t. Obama picked Arne Duncan, a member in good standing

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Betsy DeVos and U.S. Department of Education have been sued 455 times

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U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stands in front of students from Digital Pioneers Academy during an event to discuss her proposal for Education Freedom Scholarships at the Education Department headquarters February 28, 2019 in Washington, DC. According to the department, the scholarships will be funded with $5 billion of federal tax credit for donations to scholarships for private schools and other educational programs and would “significantly expand education freedom for millions of students and families across the country.” (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

This story first appeared on The 74. 

Betsy DeVos is the most-sued secretary in the 41-year history of the U.S. Department of Education.

In less than four years, DeVos and her department have been the target of more than 455 lawsuits — equivalent to being sued once every three days of her tenure, a 74 analysis has found.

By comparison, the review turned up 356 lawsuits against the department in the entire eight years Barack Obama was president.

The suits reflect the extent to which DeVos’s core agenda — including issues related to civil rights, special education and for-profit colleges — has played out in the courtroom.

“I’ve never seen or read about anything like this in my career,” said Phil Catanzano, an education attorney with the international law firm Holland and Knight. His knowledge comes firsthand: A veteran of the department’s Office for Civil Rights under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, Catanzano has 18 active cases against the department.

When it comes to her education agenda, the record shows DeVos has racked up more losses than wins. Just last week, a federal judge in California rejected a proposed settlement in a suit brought against the department by student loan borrowers who claimed they were defrauded by predatory and often for-profit colleges. The case pointed to the secretary’s move to scale back Obama policies designed to protect those who were misled. In a scathing ruling, the judge said her mass denials of loan forgiveness applications could cause students “irreparable harm.”

But there have been key exceptions. Also last week, a federal judge in Maryland dismissed a suit challenging revisions DeVos made to federal Title IX law designed to protect the rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.

The sheer volume of litigation is such that Jason Botel, a high-ranking administrator for DeVos until 2018, remembers that staff meetings frequently began with “a list of the latest lawsuits that had been filed against the department.”

The result is perhaps not surprising for a secretary who took office charged with erasing many aspects of Obama’s footprint in education, and one uniquely reviled by the nation’s powerful teachers unions and members of Washington’s advocacy class.

The analysis — which has been culled from court documents found on legal websites Law360, PACER and Courthouse News and converted into this searchable database — reflects the extreme divisiveness that has marked the Trump years. Many parties, from education organizations to states and school districts, say mistrust toward the department has grown

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