Senator Kamala Harris, Joe Biden’s choice as the Democratic candidate for vice president, has a solid record supporting public schools. As California’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017, Harris also worked aggressively to protect California’s citizens from fraud committed by the nation’s largest for-profit charter school management company. She also won a lawsuit in 2016 to provide relief to student borrowers who had been victimized by fraudulent advertising by for-profit colleges and trade schools.
The National Education Association (NEA) reports: “Harris gave her maiden speech on the Senate floor in opposition to the nomination of Betsy DeVos, focusing on her utter lack of qualifications and experience as a teacher. In support of the #Red4Ed movement, she also supported educators’ strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, California in 2019 saying, ‘Teachers in my hometown of Oakland will begin striking tomorrow because they know they deserve a raise. It’s shameful that they don’t earn enough to live in the communities where they teach.'” The 2018-2019 #Red4Ed teachers’ strikes across the United States were instrumental for forcing a number of states to remedy some of the deep budget cuts lingering from the 2008 recession, cuts that had, in Los Angeles, for example, pushed class sizes to over 40 students in public schools serving some of the city’s poorest children, many of them learning English.
NEA reports that, like Joe Biden, Harris has pushed for “increasing funding for Title I schools to make sure every student has a nurse and social worker… in addition to providing incentives to states to conduct racial and resource equity audits, increase their public school spending, and adopt more equitable funding formulas.” Like Biden she has advocated for fully funding important and federally mandated programs for disabled students. When Congress passed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the promise was that 40 percent of the cost of the programs would be federally funded. Both Biden and Harris have said that that Congress must work toward 40 percent of IDEA funding, while today, Congress funds only 14.6 percent of these programs with the rest of the investment coming from local school district budgets.
As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris sued the nation’s largest for-profit, online charter school management company, K12 Inc., for unscrupulous practices in California. In 2016, the LA Times’ Howard Blume reported: “The state attorney general’s office has reached an $8.5 million settlement with an online charter school it had accused of false advertising, misleading parents, and inadequate instruction. The settlement, announced late Friday, closes the state’s civil investigation of the 13 branches of California Virtual Academy, but it does not end the challenges for the schools and Virginia-based K12 Inc., which the state had accused of controlling the charters for the company’s benefit. Blume quotes then California Attorney General, Kamala Harris: “All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education… K12 and its schools misled parents and the state of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt.”
As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris also fought to protect students who had been cheated by unscrupulous for-profit colleges, which too often leave their students with worthless degrees and outrageous debt. These colleges traditionally fund their operations with federally backed loans and special federal loans for military veterans. Writing for Inside Higher Education, Kery Murakami explains: “(S)he is known for having sued Corinthian Colleges while she was California’s attorney general, accusing the for-profit chain of false and predatory advertising, intentionally making misrepresentations to students, securities fraud, and unlawful use of military seals in advertisements… and in 2016, Harris won a $1.1 billion federal court judgment from the now-bankrupt Corinthian. While that lawsuit was underway, she asked a federal court to prevent Corinthian from enrolling new students. As attorney general and a Democratic senator from California, Harris has pushed for debt cancellation for former Corinthian students.”
Murakami quotes Kamala Harris’ reflection on what she learned from her work on the Corinthian lawsuit: “There have been a rash of corporate predators who have taken advantage of—and often ruined—vulnerable people. Among the worst examples of these predators are the for-profit colleges that became the darlings of Wall Street….”
The closure of some for-profit colleges like Corinthian and ITT Technical Institutes did not end the injustices in for-profit higher education. Similar institutions continue to saddle their students with massive debts the students will struggle ever to repay. Writing for Forbes, Zack Friedman explains that Kamala Harris, now serving in the U.S. Senate, has continued to champion the needs of people carrying debt burdens from unscrupulous for-profit colleges: “(I)n 2016, as California’s attorney general, Harris helped to secure a $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit education company. Harris also has supported the borrower to defense to repayment rule, which helps borrowers who are victims of fraud receive student loan debt cancellation.” Despite efforts by Harris and others in Congress, “President Donald Trump vetoed a major student loan forgiveness bill regarding borrower defense to repayment. In June (2020), the House of Representatives failed to override the president’s veto.”
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has relentlessly promoted the interests of for-profit colleges and trade schools. DeVos has persistently re-written rules and guidance to block loan forgiveness for former students who were defrauded by the false claims of these for-profit institutions. In contrast, Kamala Harris has been willing to use her position as California Attorney General and U.S. Senator to take action to protect defrauded students. Harris supported the Congressional effort to ensure student debt forgiveness which Trump recently vetoed.
If Biden and Harris prevail in November, we can look forward to a sharp turn away from the philosophy and policies of Betsy DeVos, who has unstintingly promoted private schools at the expense of America’s system of public education.