Education

Attorney General Bonta Announces New Online Portal and Hiring of Statewide Sexual Assault Evidence Outreach Coordinator to Strengthen Support for Survivors

November 1, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Sexual assault evidence kit portal launched as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 215 

Outreach coordinator, Dr. Sarai Crain, to serve in first-ever role at the statewide level in California

LOS ANGELES – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today announced the launch of a new online portal to allow survivors of sexual assault to track the status of their sexual assault evidence kits and the hiring of the state’s first-ever sexual assault evidence outreach coordinator, Dr. Sarai Crain, who will work directly with law enforcement, medical facilities, and other partner organizations to support local efforts to track and process sexual assault evidence. Together, these new initiatives aim to clear the backlog of sexual assault evidence at the local level, ensure timely processing of sexual assault evidence, and increase transparency and access to information for survivors.

“There is no place for sexual assault in California or anywhere,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “My office is committed to doing everything in our power to support survivors, reduce harm, and secure justice. That’s exactly what the new actions we’re announcing today are all about — increasing access to the information to which survivors are entitled under the law and supporting our local partners in their efforts to process sexual assault evidence. Dr. Crain is an essential new addition to our team and she will play a vital role in fighting to ensure sexual assault evidence is never again left to gather dust. And, as a result of the new portal, survivors will have direct access to critical information. The portal would not be possible without the tireless work of Senator Leyva, survivor leaders, and advocates across the state who are committed to standing up for those impacted by sexual violence. Together, we will continue to fight against sexual abuse in all its forms.”

“As the author of SB 215, I am so proud that California is continuing to prioritize and empower rape survivors by making sure that they are able to easily and privately find out where their rape kit is in the process,” said Senator Connie M. Leyva. “After they have already been sexually assaulted — and after they have bravely endured a long and invasive rape kit exam — it is crucial that we enable survivors to track the status of their rape kit securely whenever they wish. I thank Attorney General Rob Bonta for his partnership on this important effort, as well as our committed coalition of sponsors — District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Joyful Heart Foundation, and Natasha’s Justice Project — and supporters for testifying, tweeting, writing, and speaking out about the vital need for this survivor-centered online portal that prioritizes healing and justice.”

“After bravely undergoing a medical and forensic exam following a sexual assault, victim-survivors should have the right to know whether the evidence collected in the forensic examination kit has been tested. Managed by the Attorney General’s Office under the leadership of Attorney General Rob Bonta, this new portal provides victim-survivors the ability to track the processing of the kit,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “For far too long, the forensic kits sat on the shelves in police evidence rooms, across this country and our state, untested. That is no longer!

“Knowledge is power and this portal gives that power to the victim-survivor. By providing access to the progress and any results through testing the sexual assault kit, victim-survivors can move forward in their healing with the peace of mind that law enforcement and our crime labs are doing their legal and statutory part in bringing justice to the victim-survivor and protecting other individuals in our community,” continued District Attorney O’Malley. “I am proud to have sponsored several pieces of legislation to bring us to this victory. I am grateful for the leadership, tenacity, and persistent work of Senator Connie Leyva, who has fought hard for several years, in the legislature and beyond, to ensure the rights, and for the empowerment of victim-survivors of sexual assault and other crimes. Thank you also to our partners, Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project.” 

“Joyful Heart is thrilled that the California Department of Justice is taking new, innovative steps that empower and support survivors,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “The creation of a position dedicated to addressing the rape kit backlog not only signals to survivors that they matter, but raises the bar for what states are willing to do to end this crisis forever. We wholeheartedly hope that all states will take note, and follow suit. In addition to this groundbreaking position, we applaud Attorney General Bonta for the launch of a victim portal to the existing rape kit tracking system. Studies have shown that granting survivors access to the status of their cases can promote healing and counter the loss of self-determination that they often experience as the result of these crimes.”

“My sexual assault evidence kit collected dust for nearly a decade after I was raped and robbed at gunpoint,” said Natasha Simone Alexenko, Survivor – Natasha’s Justice Project/VOICE Amplified. “I was unaware of the fact that my rape kit had not been processed. In the interim, the man that assaulted me was on a nationwide crime spree, putting lives in danger. I am inspired by the relentless pursuit of justice and commitment to survivors of sexual violence demonstrated by the California Department of Justice and Attorney General Bonta. This new portal empowers survivors and acknowledges our importance in the investigative process. Survivors matter. Public safety matters.”

The new portal — launched as a result of the passage of Senate Bill 215 in 2021 — is an easy-to-use tool that enables survivors of sexual assault to privately, securely, and electronically track the status and location of their sexual assault evidence kit, following a forensic sexual assault medical exam. As a result of the new portal, survivors are now able to learn in real-time whether their sexual assault evidence kit has been received by a law enforcement agency, is in transit to a lab, has been received by a lab, is undergoing DNA analysis, or has had DNA analysis completed. The portal also provides information on resources available to survivors. Individuals are able to access their own kit information online by entering their kit number and the name of the investigating agency. In California, kit information is typically provided to survivors upon completion of a forensic sexual assault medical exam. The California Department of Justice's (DOJ) Victims' Services Unit also provides telephone support to help individuals access information regarding their kits where needed. As a safeguard against potential misuse, the portal, among other protection measures, only allows access to status and location data and limits the number of times an individual can query the system each day. The information available on the portal draws from the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database maintained by DOJ. The data maintained in SAFE-T is limited and does not include fields for personally identifying information such as names, addresses, or dates of birth.

In 2015, DOJ created the SAFE-T database to track the statewide collection and processing of victim sexual assault evidence kits. Sexual assault evidence kits are primarily used for investigative purposes to develop a DNA profile of a potential suspect and are generally collected from survivors of sexual assault during a forensic sexual assault medical exam. Law enforcement agencies that investigate cases involving sexual assault — and public crime laboratories that analyze the evidence — are required to enter certain information into SAFE-T in order to help ensure sexual assault evidence is tracked and timely processed. DOJ issues an annual report providing a statistical summary of the data, which includes general information on the processing of the kit, the date a kit is submitted for DNA analysis, whether a kit generates a potentially probative DNA profile, and, if necessary, the reason why a kit is not tested within 120 days. Law enforcement agencies and crime laboratories have been mandated to report information on victim sexual assault evidence kits to SAFE-T since 2018. In 2021 alone, California’s public crime labs completed DNA analysis on more than 5,900 sexual assault evidence kits statewide. However, according to a 2020 statewide audit primarily focused on kits collected prior to 2018, there was a reported total of nearly 14,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits at the local level across California. 

As part of the broader effort to assist law enforcement agencies, public crime laboratories, and medical facilities with addressing this challenge and ensuring sexual assault evidence is processed for DNA, DOJ's first-ever statewide-level sexual assault evidence outreach coordinator, Dr. Sarai Crain, will work to identify and remove barriers to testing, connect law enforcement agencies in need of testing assistance with public crime laboratories and private vendors, and promote awareness of public resources. The outreach coordinator position is part of DOJ’s overall strategy to increase support for survivors of sexual assault across California. Dr. Crain most recently served as the Deputy Chief for the City of Oakland’s Department of Violence Prevention. As Deputy Chief, she developed a citywide strategic plan for gender-based violence prevention and intervention programs. From 2016 to 2020, Dr. Crain served as the Executive Director of Bay Area Women Against Rape, the nation’s oldest rape crisis center where she became a California-certified Sexual Assault Counselor in 2003. Dr. Crain earned her Doctor of Ministry degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary where her research was focused on counseling and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a Masters of Theological Studies degree from Pacific School of Religion.

Attorney General Bonta is committed to standing up for crime victims and survivors of sexual assault. Earlier this year, the Attorney General issued guidance to help survivors of sexual assault access resources and highlighted new efforts to support the timely processing of sexual assault evidence. Attorney General Bonta also shared information to help crime victims exercise their rights and access critical resources. In January, the Attorney General highlighted information and resources to support human trafficking survivors. Last year, he launched a matching grant aimed at assisting local authorities in reducing backlogs of unprocessed sexual assault evidence at the local level. The Attorney General also created the Office of Community Awareness, Response, and Engagement to work directly with community organizations, state and local elected officials, and members of the public as part of the office’s broader efforts to advance justice for all Californians.

General information on resources from the California Department of Justice to help address sexual assault and violence is available here. A copy of the 2020 SAFE-T annual report is available here. The 2021 SAFE-T report is forthcoming. Information on sexual assault forensic medical exams and how to obtain one is available here

The portal announced today is accessible online at https://kitstatus.doj.ca.gov. Individuals without a sexual assault evidence kit number should contact the relevant law enforcement agency and, if necessary, may find additional information through DOJ’s Victims’ Services Unit.

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues New Guidelines to Encourage Secure Sharing of Information Between Schools and Child Welfare Agencies to Better Serve Foster Youth

September 1, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Children’s Justice (BCJ), the California Department of Education (CDE), and the California Department of Social Services (CDSS) have jointly developed statewide guidelines for school districts, county offices of education, and child welfare agencies to better assist them in the secure sharing of data and information that is critical to the success of students in foster care.

“Too many foster children in California are falling through the cracks, not meeting their full potential, and ending up in the criminal justice system. Schools and child welfare agencies must communicate effectively in order to provide children the services they need,” said Attorney General Harris. “This collaborative effort between the Bureau of Children’s Justice and the California Departments of Education and Social Services is a positive step toward improving the ways we support vulnerable children, particularly foster youth.”

Under the law, foster youth are entitled to a range of services, including enhanced academic counseling regarding graduation eligibility requirements and mental health counseling.  But many eligible youth are not receiving the services they need because schools don’t know which students should be receiving additional support.  This guidance makes clear that schools and child welfare agencies can share information to keep children on track.

The guidance will help local educational and county welfare agencies by providing clarity on the scope of information which can be shared under the law, including critical information that school districts, local county offices of education, and caregivers need to identify and coordinate supports and services for foster youth.  In addition to providing clarity on the state of the law, the guidance encourages local educational and child welfare agencies to collaborate with each other to create joint data systems for the continued sharing of information regarding foster youth between and within their respective agencies.

“Providing clear statewide guidance is vital for strengthening the relationship between foster children, caregivers and educators,” said Will Lightbourne, Director of the California Department of Social Services. “This allows the focus to shift away from administrative hurdles and directly to the educational needs of each foster child.”

"Foster youth are some of our most vulnerable students," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.  "I believe this will help better serve their needs. At the California Department of Education, we know that better data collection can help students and shed light on ways to improve our services to them.”

“I deeply appreciate the joint effort by the state social services and education agencies, and the Bureau of Children's Justice, to create this guidance,” said Martha Matthews, Directing Attorney of the Children's Rights Project at Public Counsel. “It will help school districts and county child welfare agencies here in Los Angeles County and statewide to share information and work together to support foster youths' educational success, while respecting their dignity and privacy.”

“The only way we can significantly improve education outcomes for children in foster care is through strong collaboration between schools and child welfare agencies, and that can only occur when they have the ability to share essential information,” said Molly Dunn, Senior Policy Attorney at Alliance for Children’s Justice.  “The joint guidance cuts through a labyrinth of federal and state laws to provide a clear path for the communication and collaboration necessary between agencies to support the education success of children in foster care.”

“The release of this guidance is huge step forward in California's efforts to close the achievement gap for students in foster care. It answers important questions about what data may and must be shared, who should be permitted to see what information and for what purpose,” said Michelle Francois Traiman, Director of FosterEd at the National Center for Youth Law. “Effective, thoughtful sharing of information across systems is critical to ensuring that the adults that are charged to support young people collaborate meaningfully, work as a team, and put the needs of each young person at the forefront of their practices and policies so they can succeed in school.”

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris formed the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the California Department of Justice that works to support and protect children and ensure they are on track to meet their full potential. The Bureau works to enforce California’s civil and criminal laws with respect to California’s foster care, adoption, and juvenile justice systems; discrimination and inequities in education; California’s elementary school truancy crisis; human trafficking of vulnerable youth; and childhood trauma and exposure to violence.

Earlier this year, the Bureau made public its active civil rights investigations on issues related to juvenile justice, the child welfare system, and education across the state.  More information is available at http://oag.ca.gov/bcj/investigations.

Attorney General Harris’s office is leading the California Defending Childhood State Policy Initiative—a collaboration of state agencies including CDE and CDSS—in its work to address the impacts of violence and trauma on children across the state, including enhancing the secure sharing of data to inform supports and services. Under Attorney General Harris’s leadership, California was one of three states nationwide selected by the U.S. Department of Justice to be a part of its national Defending Childhood Initiative.

Attorney General Harris has pioneered the use of data to inform public policy and pushed for greater transparency and more effective collaboration and data-sharing between state agencies in order to better serve the public. She announced OpenJustice, a first-of-its-kind open data criminal justice initiative, in September 2015.  Since its launch, OpenJustice has published additional analysis and plans to release new juvenile justice data in the coming weeks.  Her office also is collaborating with the Children’s Data Network at the University of Southern California to link the administrative records of youth involved in the justice system in order to better understand their early experiences, trajectories through systems, and factors that may increase the of risk involvement, all with an eye toward preventing involvement altogether.

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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, 16 states, and the District of Columbia, Call for More Student Loan Debt Relief for Students Harmed by Predatory For-Profit Colleges

August 1, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, along Attorneys General from 16 states and the District of Columbia today submitted official comments to the United States Department of Education, urging the Department to do more to create and implement fair, streamlined, and efficient processes to enable students harmed by predatory for-profit colleges to access student loan debt relief.  The Attorneys General also praised the significant strides already made by the Department of Education through its recently proposed borrower-defense regulations. 

“We must create rules that will prevent predatory for-profit schools from continuing to cheat and mislead our students and taxpayers,” said Attorney General Harris.  “Education goes hand-in-hand with the American Dream. With new and improved federal protections for students, both current and future students defrauded by for-profit companies will finally have a meaningful opportunity for federal student loan forgiveness and the chance to pursue a higher education.” 

Department regulations in place since 1995 allow borrowers to apply for discharge of federal student loans if their college violated state law in its conduct toward them, a right referred to as “defense to repayment.”  Until recent years, this right had been invoked only a handful of times. When Attorney General Harris and other law enforcement agencies exposed Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (“Corinthian”) for extensively falsifying its job-placement rates to potential and enrolled students, tens of thousands of students became eligible for full debt relief under this process.  Other for-profit institutions may have used similarly dishonest tactics in their dealings with students, so many more borrowers may need to utilize this defense in the future.

Existing regulations have proven inadequate for handling situations of extensive fraud like in the case of Corinthian.  The Department’s existing rules provide little guidance on who may be eligible, how they should apply, or how the Department will evaluate applications. 

On June 16, 2016, the Department published its new, proposed defense-to-repayment rules after a negotiated rulemaking session earlier in the year failed.  Attorney General Harris’ office, as the negotiator on behalf of attorneys general, advocated for a number of measures in the earlier sessions that have now been included in the Department’s proposed rules, including: (1) the creation of a group-discharge process that would allow the Department to grant automatic relief to wide swaths of students similarly wronged by a predatory school, like Corinthian; (2) limitations on schools’ use of binding pre-dispute arbitration agreements and class-action waivers, common devices that predatory schools employ to undermine the legal rights of students and prevent wrongdoing from coming to light; and (3) an expansion of the time frame during which defrauded students may seek full relief from the Department.  These hard-fought gains mark major steps forward in remedying the egregious mistreatment of students and holding predatory schools accountable to taxpayers, but more remains to be accomplished.

By submitting today’s comments, Attorney General Harris and the Attorneys General of Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland, Kentucky, Connecticut,  Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, District of Columbia, and the State of Hawaii, Office of Consumer Protection now call on the Department to do more to protect students and taxpayers:

  1. Under the Department’s proposed rules, there is no formal process for a state attorney general to invoke the defense-to-repayment process when he or she has evidence a group of students was abused by a school.  As chief law enforcement officers of their respective states, state attorneys general are uniquely positioned to investigate school misconduct and bring it to the Department’s attention.  The final rules should recognize this expertise by allowing state attorney general referrals. 
  2. Under the current proposal, after establishing that his or her school violated the law, the student must then separately show that he or she is entitled to more than partial loan forgiveness.  This places an unfair and unnecessary burden on students.  The final rules should provide that once a student has demonstrated the kind of egregious conduct required to obtain debt relief in the first place, there should be a presumption that the student is entitled full relief—not the other way around.
  3. The final rules should expand the categories of school misconduct that would give rise to a defense to repayment.  Absent a litigated judgment, the current proposal limits students’ ability to seek relief from the Department to situations in which the school has either breached a contract or engaged in “substantial misrepresentations.”  This ignores other categories of rampant school misconduct that violate state law and render a student’s education worthless.  This is an unwelcome retreat from the Department’s 1995 regulations, which recognize violations of state law as a basis for defense to repayment.
  4. The Department’s proposed rules make significant strides toward eradicating mandatory pre-dispute arbitration provisions and class-action waivers in enrollment agreements.  But to give those measures the best chance of succeeding, the Department’s final rules should further clarify that schools cannot request at enrollment that students “opt out” of the bans on mandatory pre-dispute arbitration provisions and class-action waivers, and that the claims covered by these bans are broad.

The Department will publish final regulations by November 1, 2016.

In October 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris led the charge against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. and its schools in California (Everest, Heald, and Wyotech colleges), seeking to put an end to abusive practices that left tens of thousands of students with useless degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Attorney General Harris remains committed to protecting vulnerable students.  A copy of the letter is attached to the electronic version of this release at www.oag.ca.gov/news.

 

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces $168.5 Million Settlement with K12 Inc., a For-Profit Online Charter School Operator

July 8, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Agreement reached over alleged violations of California’s false claims, false advertising and unfair business practices laws

LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that the Bureau of Children’s Justice and False Claims Unit of the California Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with K12 Inc., a for-profit online charter school operator, and the 14 affiliated non-profit schools known as the California Virtual Academies (“CAVA Schools”) that it manages, over alleged violations of California’s false claims, false advertising and unfair competition laws. 

As part of the settlement, which is subject to court approval, K12 will provide approximately $160 million in debt relief to the non-profit schools it manages—“balanced budget credits” that were accrued by the schools as a result of the fee structure K12 used in its contracts—and will pay $8.5 million in settlement of all claims.  In addition, K12 has agreed to implement significant reforms of its contracts with the CAVA Schools, undergo independent reviews of its services for students with disabilities, ensure accuracy of all advertisements, provide teachers with sufficient information and training to prevent improper claiming of attendance dollars, and change policies and practices to prevent the kinds of conduct that led to this investigation and agreement.  

This is the first settlement by the new Bureau of Children’s Justice, a first-of-its-kind unit created by Attorney General Harris in February 2015 to enforce civil and criminal laws that protect children and to pursue solutions that help ensure all children are on track to realize their full potential.  The Bureau partnered with the False Claims Unit to investigate this matter, in which K12 and the CAVA Schools were cooperative.  The Attorney General’s office recently disclosed five additional active investigations by the Bureau of Children’s Justice addressing education, juvenile justice, and the child welfare system: www.oag.ca.gov/bcj/investigations.

“All children deserve, and are entitled under the law, to an equal education,” said Attorney General Harris. “K12 and its schools misled parents and the State of California by claiming taxpayer dollars for questionable student attendance, misstating student success and parent satisfaction, and loading nonprofit charities with debt.  As my office continues an industry-wide examination of for-profit academic institutions, this settlement ensures K12 and its schools are held accountable and make much-needed improvements.”

The Attorney General’s Office alleged that K12 and the CAVA Schools it operates in California misled parents to induce them to enroll their children in K12 schools by publishing misleading advertisements about students’ academic progress, parent satisfaction, their graduates’ eligibility for University of California and California State University admission, class sizes, the individualized and flexible nature of their instruction, hidden costs, and the quality of the materials provided to students.

In addition, the Attorney General’s office alleged that K12 and its affiliated schools submitted inflated student attendance numbers and collected more dollars in state funding from the California Department of Education than they were entitled to.  According to a whistle blower, K12 allegedly counted logging on for as little as one minute as a full day of attendance, wasting taxpayer dollars and harming students by depriving them of a full day of high-quality academic instruction.

Finally, the Attorney General’s office alleged that K12 and its employees influenced nonprofit online charter schools to enter into unfavorable contracts that put them deep in a financial hole.  The agreement ensures that K12 and the CAVA Schools refocus on the need to deliver quality educational services and that they do so with appropriate controls between the for-profit vendor and nonprofit schools.

A recent study showed that students in virtual schools that exist solely online are far behind their peers in math and reading.  In addition, reports show that the CAVA Schools collectively had a graduation rate of 36%, compared to the state average of 78%.

K12 Inc. is based in Virginia and is a for-profit, publicly traded company.  The 14 non-profit virtual charter schools it manages throughout California enroll approximately 13,000 K-12 students.

Ensuring that all students receive full days of academic instruction is part of Attorney General Harris’s innovative “smart on crime” approach to criminal justice, in which the Attorney General’s office has commissioned research into elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism and the connections between school attendance and interactions with the criminal justice system later in life.  Reports from the past three years and additional materials are available online at https://oag.ca.gov/truancy.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Releases Statement on Supreme Court Ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas

June 23, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES- Attorney General Kamala D. Harris released the following statement on the Supreme Court's ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, a high-profile affirmative action case regarding whether public universities can consider race in admissions decisions.

“Our nation's diversity is our strength, and our public colleges and university systems should strive to reflect that diversity. Evidence shows that fostering student bodies with wide arrays of backgrounds and experiences benefits all students and helps them prepare for a global workforce. There shouldn't be any doubt the Constitution permits public institutions of higher education to consider a range of factors, including race, when making admissions decisions and I'm glad the Supreme Court affirmed that right today." 

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Urges the Department of Education To Revoke Federal Recognition of Accrediting Agency Overseeing For-Profit Schools That Defrauded Students

June 2, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today sent a letter to the United States Department of Education, urging the Department to revoke federal recognition of the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools’ (ACICS).  ACICS is a major accreditor of for-profit schools and was the accreditor for the now defunct Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (“Corinthian”).  While accredited by ACICS, Corinthian intentionally targeted low-income, vulnerable Californians through deceptive and false advertisements and aggressive marketing campaigns that misrepresented job placement rates and school programs.

“The predatory scheme devised by executives at Corinthian Colleges, Inc. was unconscionable. And despite enforcement actions by the California Department of Justice and the federal government against Corinthian, ACICS continued to accredit Corinthian, hurting thousands of students in the process,” said Attorney General Harris. “Students relied on Corinthian’s accreditation status, believing they were obtaining a high quality-education with real job prospects. The Department of Education should not renew ACICS’ federal recognition and protect students from harm by predatory, for-profit colleges.”

In issuing this letter, Attorney General Harris supports the 13 other state Attorneys General who voiced their concerns over the renewal of ACICS as an accreditation agency.  These Attorneys General noted their opposition in a letter that included a discussion of ACICS-related issues and concerns in their respective states, also noting the failure of ACICS to take appropriate action in response to public enforcement actions by states and federal agencies.

Today’s letter is Attorney General Harris’ latest effort to protect vulnerable students from fraud and predatory practices by dishonest institutions.  Yesterday, Attorney General Harris, 10 other Attorneys General, and the State of Hawaii, Office of Consumer Protection sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee opposing an amendment that would weaken existing protections and would instead allow any college approved for military tuition benefits to have unrestricted access to recruit on military bases.  In March 2016, Attorney General Harris obtained a $1.1 billion judgment against Corinthian as a result of their predatory and unlawful practices that left tens of thousands of students with large amounts of debt and useless degrees. 

In February 2016, Attorney General Harris and 7 other Attorneys General sent a letter to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs urging greater protections for veterans affected by predatory school practices.  Also in February 2016, Attorney General released a statement and in March 2016 joined 8 other Attorneys General in a letter urging the Department of Education to adopt stronger regulations, including in “borrower defense to repayment,” to protect students misled by Corinthian and other predatory for-profit colleges.  In April 2015, Attorney General Harris and 8 other state Attorneys General sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging immediate debt relief for the students who attended Heald College and other Corinthian Colleges, Inc. campuses.

In October 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris led the charge against Corinthian Colleges, Inc. and its schools in California (Everest, Heald, and Wyotech colleges), seeking to put an end to abusive practices that left tens of thousands of students with useless degrees and tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Attorney General Harris remains committed to protecting vulnerable students.  A copy of the letter is attached to the electronic version of this release at www.oag.ca.gov/news.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris, 9 States and the District of Columbia Send Letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee Opposing Amendment that Weakens Existing Protections of Military Personnel from Predatory School Recruitment Practices

June 2, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and the Attorneys General of Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and the State of Hawaii, Office of Consumer Protection yesterday sent a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee expressing opposition to an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) proposed by Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that would allow any college approved for military tuition benefits to have unrestricted access to recruit on military bases. 

“Predatory schemes targeting veterans are unconscionable,” said Attorney General Harris.  “The proposed amendment would weaken current rules intended to protect our servicemembers, and harm veterans by making them vulnerable to fraud and exploitation.  We must protect our nation’s veterans and servicemembers from predators who would exploit them for their educational benefits.”

Under existing standards, educational institutions already have sufficient access to military installations, especially for counseling purposes.  This amendment would weaken the existing protections and leave veterans and servicemembers more susceptible to aggressive and deceptive recruiters on military properties.

Attorney General Harris and the other state attorneys general also point out that current protections are indeed insufficient and should be strengthened to ensure that servicemembers are able to perform their duties free from harassment by unscrupulous recruiters.

In issuing this letter, the attorneys general join a number of military and veterans service organizations as well as other advocacy organizations in voicing concerns over the amendment. These organizations have noted their opposition in the following letters: http://veteranseducationsuccess.org/s/Letter-to-Manchin-re-NDAA-43d5.pdf

http://veteranseducationsuccess.org/s/Letter-to-McCain-Reed-re-NDAA-Manchin-Provision-arm9.pdf

This letter is Attorney General Harris’ latest effort to protect veterans from targeted scams and predatory practices.  In March of this year, Attorney General Harris obtained a $1.1 billion default judgment against Corinthian Colleges, which targeted servicemembers and veterans and illegally used the seals of the military services in its marketing materials.  Attorney General Harris and seven states also sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs urging VA Secretary Robert McDonald to take steps to ensure that veterans are given accurate information about the risks associated with using their benefits at predatory schools like the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges, Inc.  

Last year, Attorney General Harris issued a consumer alert warning veterans and their survivors to be on alert following a rise in reported pension poaching scams, and last Friday, in honor of Memorial Day, issued consumer tips to help California servicemembers and veterans protect themselves from common scams. In November 2015, Attorney General Harris announced a stipulated judgment against JPMorgan Chase over allegations of credit card debt-collection abuses that violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and the California Military Veterans Code and required the payment of restitution to servicemember-victims nationwide.  The Attorney General’s office has also provided training and support to military legal assistance attorneys on consumer protection issues.

The letter to Senator Manchin opposing the amendment is attached to the online version of this news release at www.oag.ca.gov/news.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Consumer Alert Advising Students What to Look Out for when Applying for Student Loans

April 13, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – As students prepare to enroll in college this year and take out loans to pay for higher education, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris issued the following tips, encouraging Californians to know all the facts—and avoid potentially harmful scams—before taking on or paying off substantial student loans.  

In advance of enrolling in a college or university, students should thoroughly research the types of financial aid they may qualify for and determine which loans, scholarships, grants, or work-study programs would be most beneficial to their personal situation.   Student borrowers should be aware of factors that may impact their ability to repay student loans, such as changing the status of student enrollment, future job prospects, the amount of interest accruing on loans, and any loan prepayment penalties.          

Students should also be cautious of private companies that charge for what would normally be free student loan services.  Certain companies may impose fees for assisting with federal student loan consolidation or in submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), without disclosing that such services are actually free.  Student borrowers are strongly encouraged to use free student loan resources to avoid being charged unfair and unnecessary fees.

Consumers who take on student loans should be sure to make their payments on time.  Contact the student loan servicer promptly to discuss options if repayment of loans becomes difficult.  Eligible borrowers may be able to lower monthly payments or may be eligible for loan deferment, forbearance, or cancellation.  Late payments could adversely affect credit scores and harm future ability to make purchases or qualify for additional credit.    

What to look out for

The Attorney General offers student borrowers the following tips in order to educate themselves and take advantage of resources regarding student loans:

  • Before taking on a student loan, research the types of financial aid that are available and consider ways to lower the cost of higher education programs.  To the extent possible, carefully consider job prospects, including salary information, in deciding whether and how to take out student loans.
  • Do not sign a loan document electronically without first reviewing and understanding the terms of the loan agreement.  Make sure to understand how much money is being loaned, the interest rate of the loan, and when the loan will need to be repaid.  Inquire about the available options if loan payments cannot be made on time (which can come up during periods of unemployment, economic hardship, or enrollment in a graduate program).
  • Be aware of the differences between federal and private student loans.  Federal student loans may offer lower, fixed interest rates, while private student loans may have higher, variable interest rates.  Additionally, federal student loans generally do not need to be repaid until the student graduates and loan consolidation and income-based or other more flexible repayment plans may be available.  In contrast, private student loans may need to be repaid while the student is still in school and may not offer deferment or forbearance options.    
  • Be wary of private companies that charge a fee for assisting with filling out and submitting the FAFSA.  Such companies are unaffiliated with the government.  The U.S. Department of Education provides free assistance with filling out the FAFSA.
  • Beware of companies that charge an application fee and monthly fees for assisting with consolidating federal student loan debt.  Consolidating federal student loans is FREE through the Federal Direct Consolidation Program.  The loan consolidation process combines several federal student loans into just one loan.  Consolidated loans may be eligible for various repayment plans, including income-driven repayment plans. 
  • Ask about the student loan’s grace period and be aware that the grace period may change depending on circumstances.  Engaging in active military duty, returning to school, and consolidating loans may alter grace periods.  Make sure to stay in contact with student loan servicers to stay informed regarding the repayment time frame.
  • Defaulting on student loans will adversely affect credit and will impede the ability to make purchases down the road.  It is important to stay in touch with student loan servicers, especially if there is a difficulty in making timely payments.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

The U.S. Department of Education provides information on the types of federal aid available to students.  The website includes basic eligibility requirements for federal aid.  Additionally, the FAFSA4caster assists consumers with calculating the amount of federal student aid for which they are eligible.

The U.S. Department of Education offers a comparison of federal student loans and private student loans

The Federal Student Aid website also helps student borrowers learn about federal loan consolidation before applying for consolidationStudents who have questions regarding the loan consolidation process can contact the Loan Consolidation Information Call Center at (800) 557-7392. 

Finally, the Federal Student Aid website has information on scholarship opportunities that may help students fund their educational goals. 

What to do if you are the victim of a STUDENT LOAN scam

The Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Education investigates education programs and collects complaints regarding fraud or schemes related to the misuse of federal student aid.  If you are the victim of a student financial aid scam, please contact the Office of Inspector General’s hotline.

The California Department of Justice protects the rights of consumers and collects complaints on student loan scams in order to identify patterns of wrongful activity.  To submit a complaint to the California Department of Justice regarding a student loan scam, please use one of the following complaint forms:

English: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.  

En Españolhttp://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_sp.pdf

中文: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_chin.pdf

Tiếng Việt: http://oag.ca.gov/sites/all/files/agweb/pdfs/contact/business_corpform_viet.pdf

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Releases Statement on Supreme Court Ruling on Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

March 29, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SAN FRANCISCO - Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued the following statement in response to the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.

"Today's ruling protects the right of public employees working in our schools, universities, hospitals, and police agencies in California and across the nation to negotiate fair wages and benefits, without restricting any individual employee's freedom of speech. While this decision is a victory, we must keep fighting to protect the ability of working families to make a living wage and pursue the American dream."

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Obtains $1.1 Billion Judgment Against Predatory For-Profit School Operator

March 23, 2016
Contact: (916) 210-6000, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that her office has obtained a $1.1 billion judgment against defunct Corinthian Colleges, Inc. (CCI) for their predatory and unlawful practices. While CCI filed for bankruptcy in May 2015, this judgment can help secure further relief for struggling students.

Former Corinthian Students should visit the Attorney General’s Interactive Tool for tailored information to help them locate needed resources and relief.

In October 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris led the charge against CCI and its subsidiaries that operate Everest, Heald, and Wyotech colleges, filing suit seeking to put an end to abusive practices that left tens of thousands of students under a mountain of debt and useless degrees. CCI filed for bankruptcy in May 2015. Today, the Court granted a default judgment against CCI.  In the judgment, the Court ordered restitution on behalf of students in the amount of $820,000,000 and civil penalties totaling $350,025,000, for a total of $1,170,025,000 in monetary relief. 

“For years, Corinthian profited off the backs of poor people – now they have to pay. This judgment sends a clear message: there is a cost to this kind of predatory conduct,” said Attorney General Harris. “My office will continue to do everything in our power to help these vulnerable students obtain all available relief, as they work to achieve their academic and professional goals.”

Attorney General Harris’ original complaint alleged that CCI intentionally targeted low-income, vulnerable Californians through deceptive and false advertisements and aggressive marketing campaigns that misrepresented job placement rates and school programs. CCI deployed these advertisements through persistent internet, telemarketing and television ad campaigns. The complaint further alleged that Corinthian executives knowingly misrepresented job placement rates to investors and accrediting agencies, which harmed students, investors and taxpayers. The Attorney General filed many of these documents in Court before entry of the Court’s judgment, and they are now publicly available.

In the Final Judgment, the Court found, among other things, that:

  • From at least 2009 until the closure of its schools, many of CCI’s representations and advertisements related to job placement were untrue and/or misleading.   In numerous cases, the placement rate data in CCI’s files show that the actual placement rate is lower than the advertised rate.  The placement rates that CCI published were systematically false, misleading, erroneous and/or failed to comply with applicable state and federal regulations and/or accreditor standards.  In addition, many of these published placement rates could not be substantiated using CCI’s own internal placement data and files. 
  • CCI did not offer ultrasound technician programs, x-ray technician programs, radiology technician programs, or dialysis technician programs in California.  Despite this fact, from at least 2010 until the filing of this action, CCI ran millions of ads stating that they did offer those programs.  CCI executives knew that these false ads misled students.
  • CCI unlawfully used the official seals of the United States Department of the Army, the United States Department of the Navy, the United States Department of the Air Force, the United States Marine Corps, and the United States Coast Guard.
  • CCI’s enrollment agreements contained unlawful clauses.
  • CCI engaged in unlawful debt collection.
  • CCI failed to discloses its role in the Genesis Private Student Loan Program.
  • CCI misrepresented the transferability of credits.
  • CCI misrepresented its financial stability to students.

In April 2015, Attorney General Harris and eight other state Attorneys General sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education urging immediate debt relief for the students who attended Heald College and other CCI campuses.  In May 2015, Attorney General Harris sent a letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking the Department to exercise its authority under closed school discharge regulations to provide aid to students affected by Corinthian’s predatory practices.  In June 2015, after calls from Attorney General Harris for substantive relief for students suffering from crippling debt, the U.S. Department of Education announced expanded debt relief options for Corinthian students, which resulted in many more students being eligible for relief.  

Attorney General Harris remains committed to protecting vulnerable students, most recently through the Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking sessions on borrower defense, where Attorney General Harris called for revisions to proposed borrower defense regulations to ensure meaningful debt relief for students misled by predatory for-profit colleges. 

A copy of the judgment is attached to the electronic version of this release at: https://oag.ca.gov/news 

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PDF icon Corinthian Final Judgment.pdf1.01 MB