The suit stems from the U.S. Department of Education's decision to block an Obama-era rule that was put in place to protect students from being defrauded by for-profit colleges.
The gainful employment rule, which was designed to ensure that students could secure jobs with high enough incomes to pay off their student loans, was scheduled to go into effect in July. DeVos froze it and said a new rule would be crafted in its place.
DeVos' move to halt the gainful employment rule is yet another example of the Department of Education's efforts to roll back Obama-era policies, including the rights of transgender students and the way colleges investigate reports of sexual assault on campus. DeVos has claimed that the rules were "confusing" and encroached on local and state rights.
"The Department of Education is again eliminating crucial protections for student borrowers," Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said on Tuesday. Other states represented in the lawsuit, which was filed in federal court, include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
"Students seek higher education degrees to get better, higher paying jobs," Frosh said in a statement. "When predatory institutions fail to deliver the education and training they promise, students are saddled with burdensome debt, and their employment prospects are not improved."
In response to the lawsuit, Education Department Press Secretary Liz Hill claimed DeVos is working to fix a "broken" system.
"This is just the latest in a string of frivolous lawsuits filed by Democratic attorneys general who are only seeking to score quick political points," Hill said in a statement. "While this administration, and Secretary DeVos in particular, continue work to replace this broken rule with one that actually protects students, these legal stunts do nothing more than divert time and resources away from that effort."
Contrary to the Education Department's statements, prominent education organizations have spoken out about the rollbacks of the Obama-era rules.
When DeVos announced her plans to revamp the Title IX regulations, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement: [Educators nationwide] are appalled that the Department of Education has decided to weaken protections for students who survive campus sexual assault or harassment. This decision offends our collective conscience and conflicts with the basic values of equality, safety, and respect that we teach our students every day."
Furthermore, studies have shown that 75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school and 59% of trans students have been denied access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity. As a result, many of these students are bullied and are unable to focus on their education throughout the school day.
So, despite Hill's statements, rules put in place by the Obama administration were not merely political stunts: They were created to protect the most vulnerable students.