Democrats on the House education committee on Thursday issued subpoenas for three career Education Department staff as part of the committee’s probe into whether Under Secretary Diane Auer Jones tried to help Dream Center Education Holdings retroactively get accreditation to continue to receive federal dollars.
In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos accompanying the subpoenas, the committee’s chairman, Bobby Scott, wrote that the department has refused to turn over information.
“The department has regularly ignored the Committee’s emails and requests to negotiate,” wrote Scott, of Virginia. “The department has repeatedly agreed to prioritize certain requested documents only to later abandon those commitments and instead produce unrelated documents as part of ‘data dumps.’ When the Department ultimately complied with agreements for production, it provided almost entirely redacted document sets without indicating why essential content was withheld.”
A committee spokeswoman declined to identify the staff being subpoenaed.
However, the department has written the committee saying it could not release some of the documents for security reasons. Department spokeswoman Angela Morabito said committee staff have instead been invited to come look at the documents.
“Thousands of pages have been sitting at the department. Yet, instead of conducting business in a lawful, rational, and responsible way, the unhinged Democrats have resorted to badgering career civil servants to carry on what is nothing more than a witch hunt,” she said.
A report released by the committee in July accused Jones, a former lobbyist for for-profit institutions, of going to “extraordinary lengths” to help Dream Center after two of its schools lost accreditation.
Dream Center, a Los Angeles-based religious organization, in 2018 purchased more than 100 campuses from the for-profit Education Management Corporation with the intention of running them as nonprofit programs. During the transaction, two campuses, the Art Institute of Colorado and the Illinois Art Institute, lost their accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accreditor.
The report charged that Dream Center continued to tell its students and the public on its website that it was accredited for six months. During that time, the Education Department continued to make payments to Dream Center even though for-profit institutions can only receive federal student loan payments if they are fully accredited.
Dream Center then sought retroactive accreditation. But when the accreditor reached out to career Education Department staff, they were told that according to department policy, accreditation cannot be made retroactively.
Citing emails released by the committee, the report said Jones reached out to HLC staff with “different ideas about [Dream Center],” said the career staff was wrong about retroactive accreditation and asked the accreditor to work “exclusively with her at the Department on this issue.” Then, in July 2018, Jones signed a department guidance allowing for retroactive accreditation, the report said.
“Rather than cutting off their access to taxpayer money — as the law requires — the documents reveal that the Department continued to send these schools millions of dollars in federal financial aid, while also working behind the scenes to attempt to secure ‘retroactive accreditation’ for these schools, a process that would change history to erase Dream Center’s misrepresentations to students,” Scott said after the July report.
Morabito has denied that Jones has done anything wrong and instead blamed the Higher Learning Commission for violating department regulations in removing accreditation from the schools.