John Kline-- Congress' Worst Enemy Of Public Education
|John Kline's constituents are reading about their crooked congressman this week|
This week, Kline's progressive opponent, Mike Obermueller, proposed cracking down on crooked for-profit college predators that have been targeting veterans and playing fast and loose-- thanks to Kline's efforts-- with taxpayer dollars. Obermueller's proposed legislation is geared to ensure schools are as invested in their students' education as their own bottom line. Obermueller went right to the point. According to the federal Department of Education students at for-profit colleges represent only about 13% of the total higher education population, but about 31% of all student loans and nearly half of all loan defaults.
Worse yet, most students at for-profit gainful employment programs who graduated with an associate degree were also left with federal student loan debt, which averaged $23,590, while the majority of students at community colleges did not borrow, earning the same degree. And of the for-profit gainful employment programs the Department of Education could analyze, the majority-- 72%-- produced graduates who on average earned less than high school dropouts.
"It's been made clear that the for-profit industry is simply not doing an acceptable job of producing a high quality education," said Obermueller. "Worse, these schools have been abusively targeting prospective students, using various lies and distortions of the truth to recruit them."The highly respected Rochester Post-Bulletin sat down with all three candidates running for the congressional seat Kline is sitting in. Yesterday they announced their endorsement: Mike Obermueller. "Sending Kline back to Washington," wrote the editors, who had endorsed Kline in 2012 and are willing to admit they made a terrible error, "would be rewarding him for failure."
Recently the for-profit industry has come under increased scrutiny on both the state and federal level, with multiple schools being investigated on charges of fraud. Obermueller's proposed legislation seeks to put an end to the industry's ability to offer substandard programs and still profit.
The proposal will protect veterans, prevent abuses of federal dollars, increase transparency, and promote good performance.
One of the most egregious practices of these predatory actors is the targeting of veterans for access to their federal tuition benefits. Currently at least 10% of a school's revenue must come from non-Title IV federal dollars, which include Pell Grants and federal loans.
Because veterans' benefits are not Title IV dollars, veterans have become an attractive target for for-profit schools. One simple change-- counting all federally supplied dollars as federal dollars under this law-- would end the predatory targeting of veterans by for-profit schools.
"To these bad actors, veterans are walking dollar signs," said Obermueller. "It's disgusting to think that these schools have been targeting our veterans' tuition benefits without any intention of providing them with a real education. But unfortunately, current regulation is set up in a way that incentivizes these schools to go after veterans. This is an easy thing to change, and I would expect to find broad bipartisan support for this measure."
Our education dollars should be funding one thing: education. Taxpayers deserve to know their hard-earned tax dollars are going to actually fund what they're meant to fund. Marketing and recruitment makes up an average of 23% in many large for-profit budgets.
"It's surprising that these regulations don't already exist," said Obermueller. "Making sure our education funding is actually used to fund education seems like it should be an obvious requirement for these schools. Unfortunately, as sensible as it is, these for-profits are using large amounts of federal money for only one purpose-- getting more federal money."
The bad actors in the for-profit world will do everything they can to obscure the truth about their disgraceful practices. Much of their marketing and advertising plays on the heartstrings of those people who want to better themselves.
"The people going to these schools are trying to get ahead," said Obermueller. "In many cases, these folks have families that they're trying to provide for at the same time. We owe it to them to make sure they're armed with the best information possible, so they can make an informed choice about the school and program that's best for them."
Requiring schools to provide information both to the federal government and to prospective students would ensure that everyone has the information necessary to find the best fit for them, and to know when schools are acting maliciously. Simple facts, like graduation and job placement rates, as well as median income and debt upon graduation, would give students a fairer look at what these schools can offer them.
"Too often these schools are intentionally blinding prospective students from the truth about their programs, enticing them with promises that have no basis in reality," said Obermueller. "This is abuse we can prevent."
The most direct way to incentivize these bad actors to reform is by using federal money, the money these schools depend on, to leverage schools to adopt a more outcome-focused approach.
"Too many of these schools are focused solely on making money," said Obermueller. "As inconvenient as it might be for them, they're in the business of educating our nation's students, and our students have a right to expect a meaningful return on their investment.
"These schools need to share in the responsibility for their students' outcomes. To do anything less is to do nothing more than defraud our students, and that's completely unacceptable.
Tying outcomes, such as default rates and income to debt ratios, to federal money is a focused approach to getting these schools to clean up their act."
One of the most disappointing aspects of this situation is that many of these reforms could already have been enacted if it weren't for Congressman John Kline. As chair of the Education and Workforce Committee in the House, Kline has repeatedly refused to regulate the for-profit college industry. While advocating for the protection of veterans' benefits or transparency in school choice to constituents, Kline has been protecting the way these predatory colleges have been acting when he's in Washington.
"John Kline has been one of the largest single obstructions on the path to ensuring for-profit colleges offer a high quality education," said Obermueller. "Between his refusal to regulate this industry responsibly and his votes to increase student loan interest rates, it's clear he's comfortable with students being nothing more than a profit center.
"When education becomes about profits instead of producing high caliber students, we've failed. Unless we do something to counteract the status quo, that's the path we're heading down.
"We can turn this around. We can enact these pieces of legislation to help ensure high quality education is the priority in the for-profit industry. But it starts with removing the obstacles to these goals, and that means removing John Kline from office."
Obermueller's economic strategy focuses on college affordability, improving the Affordable Care Act and equalizing women's economic security. "We need to have working-class families with money in their pockets," he said. "You'll get more demand by having a stronger, bigger middle class. They are the real job creators."Steve Israel refuses to allow the DCCC, which he chairs, take on any senior Republican leaders or committee chairmen and has given Kline a free pass to reelection, despite all the damage he is doing to American education and to American students. Bill Maher and Blue America are trying to help call attention to the nature of Kline's tenure in Congress. If you have it in you for one last contribution today, you can give directly to Mike's campaign here.
Kline cites his work on the House Education Committee as evidence he can work in a bipartisan manner, pointing to the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a measure that streamlined 47 federal job-training programs to 32.
He also pointed to legislation that tied student loan rates to 10-year Treasury notes, stabilizing Stafford Subsidized Student Loans that had doubled from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. The loans are now at 4.6 percent.
Obermueller disagrees with Kline's approach, saying a better solution would allow people to refinance student loans. "You can refinance your home loan, you can refinance your car loan, but you can't refinance your student debt? And there's absolutely no reason for it," Obermueller said.
Not surprisingly, they differ on the Affordable Care Act, with Obermueller seeing it as "certainly not perfect, but it is having a big impact in terms of coverage." Obermueller predicted it will grow in popularity with both parties eventually taking credit for it. "Right now, it's a political hot potato," he said. "I don't think it should be. I think we should work to improve it, but repealing it is not an option."
As a preface to his position on health-care reform, Kline said: "By far the best way to approach it was to repeal whole Affordable Care Act before it was implemented and replace it with some other reforms." Kline listed some of the frequent Republican talking points, such as increasing competition among private insurers across state lines, creating coverage pools for people with pre-existing conditions and providing incentives for health savings accounts.
"Now that it's being implemented, it gets a lot trickier to do," Kline said. "It doesn't mean that we have to accept it just as it is. It means we have to go in and change much of the Affordable Care Act."
The Post-Bulletin's Editorial Board found the statement disingenuous. To "change much of the Affordable Care Act" is a euphemism for repealing the four-year law. Even if the Republicans control the House and the Senate, they won't have strong enough majorities to override a presidential veto. President Barack Obama, who has vetoed just two bills during his nearly six years in office, will not allow his signature legislation to be dismantled like a game of Jenga.
Two years ago, we endorsed Kline, believing his seniority and leadership would help Congress avoid the "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and sequestration that would impose mandatory, across-the-board budget cuts.
So what happened? Congress passed a series of temporary measures to postpone a decision on the debt limit. Finally, the federal government partially shut down for the first 16 days of October 2013, largely because of the Republican-controlled House tried to derail the Affordable Care Act and demand concessions on the budget.
"They shut the government down for 16 days as a political stunt to show them how much they don't like it," Obermueller said.
As much as Kline wants to point to the obstinacy of the Senate Democrats, the House Republicans are just as much to blame. Sending Kline back to Washington would be rewarding him for failure.
That's why the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board is endorsing Mike Obermueller for the 2nd Congressional District. When Obermueller served in the Minnesota Legislature, he was chosen to carry the omnibus state economic development bill, a rare honor for a freshman representative. Obermueller credits his moderate reputation for helping recruit Republican co-authors on that bill and for helping him win a state House seat once held by Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who later became Minnesota's governor.
"Most people are most enthused for a fight out there as opposed to the end game and the solution," Obermueller said. "We have to have people who can actually move forward on these important topics, so laying out actual plans, having vigorous debate and building coalitions around it is really the most important thing."
We agree with Mike Obermueller, and we recommend him to be the next representative for the 2nd Congressional District.