The nonpartisan web site New Voters Project has elicited positions from the leading presidential candidates on reform or repeal of the Higher Education Act's anti-drug provision, which bars students with drug convictions, no matter how minor, from receiving federal financial aid for specified periods of time. The HEA question, submitted by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (http://www.ssdp.org) member Margaret Reitler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was one of 12 selected by the New Voters Project. Other topics included foreign policy, the death penalty, the draft, and social security.
On the HEA, all three candidates supported either scaling back the anti-drug provision or eliminating it altogether:
"Education is perhaps the best way for someone who has been involved with drugs or crime to turn their life around," said Democratic candidate John Kerry. "If a young person has overcome past obstacles and is ready to go to college, I don't think that a nonviolent drug conviction in their past should prevent them from doing so. And the reality is that preventing them from obtaining federal loans means they won't be able to afford to go to college."
President Bush also called for a partial reform of the financial aid ban, saying, "My 2005 Budget proposes to fix the drug provision of the Higher Education Act so that incoming students who have a prior drug-related conviction would be able to receive Federal student aid, and only students convicted while in college would lose their eligibility for student aid."
Bush's position echoes that of HEA anti-drug provision author Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). Although the law he wrote denies financial aid for any drug conviction, he now says he wants to "reform" the law so that it only applies to drug convictions incurred while students are in college.
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader called outright for the repeal of the HEA anti-drug provision. "Repeal the Higher Education Act drug provision as it applies to nonviolent offenders. The drug war has failed -- we spend nearly $50 billion annually on the drug war and problems related to drug abuse continue to worsen."
Neither Bush nor Kerry went far enough, according to SSDP. "Scaling back the drug provision would help tens of thousands of students get back into college, but the proposed 'fix' fails to address the fundamental problems with this law," said SSDP executive director Scarlett Swerdlow. "At-risk students will still be pushed away from education and into cycles of failure under Rep. Souder's proposal. We, the students of this country, find it disappointing that the two major candidates for president have failed to explicitly state their support for fully repealing this misguided law."
Visit http://youthdebate.newvotersproject.org/the_candidates_respond.html#q6 to see the candidates' full answers.