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DeVos Appoints CEO Of A Student Loan Company To Head Federal Aid Agency

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appointed current student loan company CEO Wayne Johnson to head the federal student loan agency this week.
Zach Gibson
Bloomberg/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appointed current student loan company CEO Wayne Johnson to head the federal student loan agency this week.

Welcome to this week's edition of our national education news roundup.

DeVos appoints current student loan company CEO to head student loan agency

Wayne A. Johnson will be the new head of Office of Federal Student Aid after James Runcie abruptly resigned last month, the U.S. Department of Education announced this week. FSA is the agency responsible for administering $1.4 trillion in outstanding student loans from 42 million borrowers, plus other aid programs for millions of college students.

As not mentioned in the department's press release, and first reported by BuzzFeed, Johnson is currently the CEO of Reunion Financial Services Corporation, a private student loan company.

Liz Hill, press secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, provided NPR with a statement that read in part: "Dr. Johnson has 30 years of experience in the private sector and is going to be a tremendous asset to the Department and to FSA's customers [...] Wayne knows this industry inside and out and has seen first-hand the benefits of serving students and helping them meet their financial and educational goals. This is just another reason why we are so excited to have him on the team as we work to put students' needs first."

The head of FSA is an appointment that doesn't require Senate confirmation. It's unclear why Johnson did not resign before his appointment was announced. Hill said in the statement, "This goes without saying, but he will separate from the company should he join FSA."

New federal report says student loan borrowers are being denied their rights

Many "borrowers attempting to invoke their rights under federal law ... point to a range of student loan industry practices that delay, defer or deny access to critical consumer protections," the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal watchdog agency, reported this week. The report reviewed thousands of consumer complaints from student borrowers between March 2016 and February 2017. Over that time, the number of complaints more than tripled.

The report particularly focused on troubles from people enrolled, or trying to enroll, in Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that cancels the student loans of people employed in the government or for a nonprofit for at least 10 years. The first group of borrowers is supposed to get their loans forgiven starting this fall, but what the report describes as "servicing breakdowns" is preventing many from enrolling and making progress toward that goal.

DeVos named in civil rights probe

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, a congressionally authorized independent watchdog group, announced a two-year investigation of federal civil rights enforcement to be completed by 2019.

Its statement cited President Trump's proposed budget cuts, and "changing ... priorities" as reasons to be concerned about a "dangerous reduction of civil rights enforcement across the country."

DeVos was the only government official named in the statement, which read in part, "These proposed cuts are particularly troubling in light of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' repeated refusal in Congressional testimony and other public statements to commit that the Department would enforce federal civil rights laws."

As we've reported, DeVos has been questioned repeatedly — and has repeatedly deflected questions — about whether she would uphold the rights of LGBT students at private schools that receive public money, such as vouchers. In the United States, most private schools have religious affiliations.

Wealthy, white communities are seceding to form new school districts

And their secession is taking money from poorer schools, a new report from the nonprofit EdBuild finds.

Since 2000, 71 communities have attempted to secede from their school districts following this pattern; 47 have succeeded.

Thirty states "have processes codified in state law that allow for secession," according to EdBuild. Among those profiled in the report are Tennessee, Louisiana and Colorado — which brings us to ...

Colorado firearms training for teachers

At some schools in Colorado, teachers are undergoing firearms training. The training, offered by an Ohio-based pro-gun group known as Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response, allows "teachers, administrators, and other personnel to stop school violence rapidly" and "administer medical aid where necessary," the BBC reports.

FASTER was organized in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 teachers, staffers and elementary students were killed. Colorado law allows firearms to be carried in public places provided they are in plain view.

Dallas schools aim for diversity

The Dallas school system, one of the most segregated in the country, is making great efforts to integrate, The New York Times reports.

The district plans to open more than 35 new schools in the next three years, with themes such as single-sex education, science, the arts and dual-language programs, in hopes of enticing more white and college-educated families. They are also taking the unusual step of reserving seats at some schools for students who are not considered low-income, even those who come from outside the district.

The district went from a majority white population before desegregation in 1960 to a 93 percent black and Hispanic student body today. Dallas is one of a few cities pushing for integration, as nationwide, public schools are more segregated than they were in 1970.

Stephens College creates first women's 'esports' team

Video games played as a spectator sport, known as esports, are on the rise, and Stephens College wants to be ahead of the curve. This fall the small private women's college in Columbia, Mo., will have the first all-women's collegiate varsity esports team in the nation.

"There isn't any reason that women shouldn't be competitive in esports, just as they're competitive at any other sport," the president of Stephens College, Dianne Lynch, told KOMU. The school will also offer esports scholarships.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
Kayla Lattimore
Julie Depenbrock
Julie Depenbrock (she/her) is an assistant producer on Morning Edition. Previously, she worked at The Washington Post and on WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi Show. Depenbrock holds a master's in journalism with a focus in investigative reporting from the University of Maryland. Before she became a journalist, she was a first grade teacher in Rosebud, South Dakota. Depenbrock double-majored in French and English at Lafayette College. She has a particular interest in covering education, LGBTQ issues and the environment. She loves dogs, hiking, yoga and reading books for work (and pleasure).