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Attorneys general in 18 states have sued the U.S. Department of Education over the Trump administration's move to pause enforcement of the so-called gainful-employment rule, which applies to vocational programs at nonprofit colleges and to all programs at for-profit institutions.

Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, in June announced that the department would start over again on gainful employment with a rule-making process aimed at creating a new version of the rule. Since then the department has delayed action on key provisions of the Obama administration regulation, including disclosures to students.

The lawsuit filed this week by the group of AGs argues that the Trump administration's delay in implementing the rule is illegal.

"In delaying and refusing to enforce the rule, the department failed to engage in notice-and-comment rule making, failed to provide a justification for its actions, acted arbitrarily and capriciously and in excess of statutory jurisdiction, authority or limitations, or short of statutory right, and withheld or unreasonably delayed agency action, all in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act," the filing said.

A spokeswoman for the department pushed back against the legal challenge.

"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," the spokeswoman said in a written 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."

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, released a written statement backing the AGs.

“In August 2017, despite her legal responsibility, Secretary DeVos admitted in a response to my written question that she had no intention of enforcing the gainful-employment rule," Durbin said. "Instead, she continues to side with a for-profit college industry that enrolls 9 percent of all postsecondary students but takes in 17 percent of all federal student aid and accounts for 33 percent of all federal student loan defaults."

Career Education Colleges and Universities, the for-profit sector's trade group, criticized the lawsuit.

“The department’s decision is based on sound legal precedent and strong public policy merits,” Steve Gunderson, the group's president and CEO, said in a written statement. “It would be far better if the attorneys general would stop the ideological attacks on postsecondary career education and begin adult conversations about how to construct policies that are fair and equitable to all career programs in all colleges and universities.”