The Higher Education Act Reform Campaign is shifting into high gear with the new school year, working with students, educators and supporters around the country to mobilize against the new law stripping students convicted of drug offenses of their eligibility for federal financial aid. Please visit the newly redesigned and updated web site http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com to download an activist packet for students, a sign-on letter for educators and to learn more about the issue. Special thanks to DRCNet member Matt Koglin for revamping our web site!
Victims of the new law are still needed to work with the campaign and help raise awareness of the law's unfortunate consequences. Please contact Steve Silverman and the rest of DRCNet's HEA team at [email protected] if you've been affected or think you can help find someone who has and who is willing to come forward.
Following is our news release of this past Monday, written in conjunction with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, distributed to campus papers around the country:
NEW ANTI-DRUG LAW UNDERMINES
Washington, DC (9/18/00): Fall 2000 marks the first semester a new law delaying or denying federal financial aid to students convicted of illegal drug offenses takes effect. At last count, more than 6,000 students or would-be students have lost some or all of their aid as a result of the drug provision of the Higher Education Act (HEA), enacted in late 1998. More than 750,000 applicants left the drug question, #28 on the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), blank, and are receiving aid this school year. Under new regulations, however, applicants leaving the question blank in subsequent years will not receive aid, escalating the number of people likely to be impacted by the provision into the hundreds of thousands.
The HEA drug provision has sparked widespread criticism on campuses across the nation, as well as from a wide range of advocacy organizations and a growing contingent in Congress. As of Sept. 15, 2000, the campaign, which is being organized online at http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com, has seen its resolution adopted by more than 25 student governments, ranging from University of Michigan to Yale University to University of Kansas, as well as by multi-campus organizations such as United States Student Association, Student Association of the State University of New York, United Council of University of Wisconsin Students and Association of Big Ten Schools.
At Hampshire College (western Massachusetts), students voted in a campus-wide referendum, passed overwhelmingly, to allocate $10,000 of student activities funds to help Hampshire students affected by the HEA drug provision attend school.
The Coalition for HEA Reform has charged that the new law is discriminatory by both race and class. "Unsolved biases in the criminal justice system, such as racial profiling, will now be indirectly thrust upon the higher education system via this new law," said David Borden, Executive Director of the Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet), which is coordinating the Coalition's efforts. "And the law directly discriminates against the poor and working class, because it doesn't affect those wealthy enough to attend school without financial aid."
The Coalition for HEA Reform's endorsers include such groups as the NAACP, ACLU, National Organization for Women, American Pubic Health Association, and a wide range of civil rights, education, religious, women's and drug policy groups. The Coalition submitted a letter to Congress on May 25, calling for passage of H.R. 1053, a bill sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to repeal the HEA drug provision.
"Denying access to an education is a counterproductive approach to the problem of substance abuse," said Shawn Heller, co-National Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). "Placing roadblocks in the way of young people who have had trouble with the law, but are trying to move their lives in a positive direction through education, will increase, not reduce, social problems like drug abuse." Heller added, "Students can see firsthand that the so-called 'war on drugs' has failed, and are standing up to 'just say no' to harmful drug laws like the HEA drug provision."
ADDENDUM TO NEWS RELEASE:
Congressional activity can be highly complex, and the HEA issue is no exception. We list here the different bills and amendments involved to try to make it all clear:
HIGHER EDUCATION ACT (HEA): The Higher Education Act was passed by Congress in 1965 and is the legislation authorizing and dealing with federal financial aid programs and related matters.
HEA DRUG PROVISION: The brainchild of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the HEA drug provision was passed in late 1998 and delays or denies all federal financial aid for any state or federal drug offense.
H.R. 1053: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced H.R. 1053 last year to repeal the HEA drug provision. H.R. 1053 currently has 29 cosponsors, all of them Democrats. The bill will have to be reintroduced in January when the new Congress (107th session) begins.
H.R. 4504: This bill, titled "Higher Education Technical Amendments of 2000," made a variety of mostly minor changes to the Higher Education Act. It contains language submitted by Souder himself that 1) limits the applicability of the drug provision to students who were receiving financial aid at the time the offense for which they were convicted was committed; and 2) requires the Dept. of Education to treat students who don't answer the drug question on the FAFSA financial aid application as ineligible until they do. H.R. 4504 was passed on May 25 by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Because it is very widely supported (despite having this one controversial provision), it became law under expedited procedures without further debate.
Scott Amendment: Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced an amendment in the Committee yesterday to strike the drug provision entirely, like H.R. 1053 would do. The Scott amendment failed by a vote of 31-16. It was opposed by all the Republicans and five Democrats.