Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Ilhan Omar tweet
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Judge Threatens Betsy DeVos With Jail Time For Failing To Forgive Student Loan Debt

A federal judge is threatening Education Secretary Betsy DeVos with jail time after she found that her court order had been violated around 16,000 times because the Department of Education was still collecting payments on student loans that should have been forgiven.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim ruled in 2018 that the department could not continue to collect student debt from the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges after they closed down in 2015 following extensive fraud investigations.

Kim was “astounded” to find that after her ruling, DeVos’ department had contacted over 16,000 former Corinthian students to collect on their loans. At least 1,800 of them lost wages or tax refunds because of this.

“At best it is gross negligence, at worst it’s an intentional flouting of my order,” she said. The magistrate is currently looking into whether or not to hit DeVos with contempt, and if she does, then it’s an issue of whether to impose sanctions or just send the offending Secretary to jail. “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

After the exposure of predatory for-profit colleges caused widespread outrage in the U.S. in 2015, the Department of Education began a program to forgive loans associated with schools like Corinthian. However, when DeVos took over the department in 2017, she quickly worked to limit the program and ignored around 160,000 loan forgiveness applications.

This led to a lawsuit, which led to Kim’s 2018 ruling, which could lead to a jail cell for DeVos. Sanctions are more likely, but either way, DeVos is in hot water now.

“There have to be consequences for violation of my order sixteen thousand times,” Kim said. According to Newsweek, Harvard lawyer Toby Merrill thinks that contempt charges are very likely.

“I don’t want to put any words in the judge’s mouth,” she said, “but I think based on the evidence, it’s unquestionable that the Department of Education is in contempt of the court order. There really is no factual question about it.”