Department of Education Cites Pressure to Modify Restrictions on Financial Aid 8/17/01

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According to an article in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the author of the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision, has met with officials at the Department of Education, seeking to have the scope of the law's applicability narrowed to not punish those whose convictions occurred prior to their enrolling in college and receiving federal aid. The law as it is currently interpreted takes away college aid privileges from would-be students with drug convictions for periods of time ranging form one year to indefinitely.

According to the latest Department of Education data, 35,326 would-be college students have been fully or partially denied financial aid by the DOE this year -- with 25% of applications remaining to be processed -- because they reported drug convictions on their aid applications.

It is unclear whether the law can be narrowed in this way without an act of Congress. Though Rep. Souder professes that it was not his intention to take away opportunities from those who have put their legal troubles behind them, the law as written specifies no such exemption. Even if passed, however, such a compromise would do little to slow the growing momentum of the campaign to overturn the law in its entirety.

Terry Hartle, vice president of government relations for the American Council on Education (http://www.acenet.edu) told the Chronicle, "It would obviously make a bad idea more palatable, but it will still be a bad idea."

Shawn Heller, National Director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org), said in a press release issued Wednesday by SSDP and DRCNet on behalf of the Coalition for Higher Education Reform, "We are gearing up for campaigns against this law on over 150 campuses this fall. The Department's proposed changes won't stop our organizing. We're going to get this law repealed."

DRCNet Executive Director David Borden added, "We're happy that some would-be students with past convictions will now be allowed to move on with their lives. But this so-called 'reform' addresses none of the crucial issues that our coalition has been raising, and the law in its proposed new form will still discourage tens of thousands of students every year from completing their college careers. Anyone who thinks that will reduce drug abuse needs a new 'anti-drug.'"

A wide variety of organizations, including the NAACP, the American Public Health Association and the United States Student Association have charged that the HEA drug provision is an extra-judicial second punishment inflicted only on the poor and middle class, and that it imposes racial disparities on the education system because of unsolved criminal justice problems including racial profiling.

New Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Asa Hutchinson spoke out on this issue two weeks ago, telling the Los Angeles Times that he would support allowing drug offenders to remain eligible for college financial aid. Hutchinson said that many drug offenders who wish to further their education find themselves barred from receiving student aid "even though they've turned their lives around." Allowing such people to receive financial aid would help them "get back to leading useful, productive lives" (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/197.html#asahutchinson).

Hutchinson's opposition to the student aid ban is a response to guidance he received from education experts. In May, 13 leading education associations representing admissions officers, community and state colleges, financial aid administrators and students groups, sent a letter to the newly nominated Hutchinson, calling the HEA drug provision a "fundamentally flawed piece of legislation" (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/187.html#aceletter).

Visit http://www.RaiseYourVoice.com for extensive information on the Higher Education Act Reform Campaign, including activist packets and an online petition to Congress.

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Issue #199, 8/17/01 Editorial: Let Justice Be Done | US Global Lead in Imprisonment Still Safe: State Prison Populations Begin to Decline but Feds Make Up Difference | Prison Industry Confab Gets Heated Reception in Philadelphia | Mandatory Minimums Under Threat, Supreme Court Showdown Looming After 9th Circuit Rules Against Certain Drug Sentencing Laws | Oregon Bar Ethics Brouhaha Continues: Feds Still Refusing to Authorize Undercover Operations, State Narcs Could Be Out There | Department of Education Cites Pressure to Modify Restrictions on Financial Aid | Australia: Top Cops Propose "Heroin Bank," Political Firestorm Ensues as Prime Minister Nixes Idea | Chess Players Become Drug Tested Pawns in Game's Bid for Olympic Status, Players Not Amused | Vermont Governor Leads Way in Restricting Oxycontin for the Poor | Weitzel Prosecution Condemned by Leading Pain Specialist | Marijuana Extracts for Pain Study to Begin in Canada | DRCNet Book Review: Hooked: Five Addicts Challenge Our Misguided Drug Rehab System | T-shirts for Victory! Special Offer and Appeal from DRCNet This Month | Action Alerts: Ecstasy Bill, HEA, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, John Walters | HEA Campaign Still Seeking Student Victim Cases -- New York Metropolitan Area Especially Urgent | The Reformer's Calendar
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