Newsbrief: HEA Repeal Picking Up Steam -- Congressional Advisory Committee, Arizona Legislators Urge Rescinding of Souder's Law 2/4/05

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The broad-based effort to repeal the Higher Education Act (HEA) provision barring students with drug convictions from receiving student financial aid has gained new support in recent weeks, with a congressionally-appointed committee calling for effective repeal of the provision and a bipartisan group of Arizona legislators introducing a resolution to the same effect.

CHEAR press conference with ten
members of Congress, May 2002
Through the efforts of the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR), an umbrella group coordinated by DRCNet, more than 180 student, academic, professional, educational, and civil liberties organizations have now called for the drug provision's repeal. The brainchild of arch-drug warrior Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), the provision has, according to the US Department of Education, led to some 157,000 students being denied financial aid since it went into effect in 2000, many of them for simple marijuana possession.

The HEA drug provision and Souder's effort to defend a proposed partial reform to the law that would make it apply only to those arrested while enrolled in college -- advocates want full repeal instead -- took a direct hit late last month when the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance called for the removal of the question about drug convictions from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The committee, an independent body created by Congress to advise it on education and student aid policy, simply called the drug question "irrelevant." The provision "can deter some students from applying for financial aid," the committee declared.

"We are pleased with the recommendation coming from the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance's report," said Chris Mulligan, CHEAR outreach director. "Mistakes young people made in the past should have no bearing on their ability to succeed in the future. Hopefully, Congress will heed the advice of its own appointees and work to repeal the drug provision during this session."

Congress may get another nudge from the state of Arizona. On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 14 state legislators, acting at CHEAR's behest, introduced a resolution calling on Congress to repeal the HEA drug provision. If the measure passes, Arizona would become the second state to call for repeal. A similar resolution passed the Delaware General Assembly last year.

"I sponsored this legislation because of what I've learned in my professional experiences working the last 25 years in child welfare," said sponsor Rep. David Bradley (D-28). "The antidote to poverty, violence, and substance abuse problems is education. It is ludicrous to penalize a one-time drug offender by making it more difficult to escape the ravages of substance abuse and poverty by not facilitating their educational opportunities."

CHEAR hopes that Republican moderate US Sen. John McCain is listening. Last year, a bill to repeal the provision gained 70 cosponsors in the House, but lacked a companion bill in the Senate. McCain could take the hint from his home state General Assembly and introduce such a bill in the Senate, CHEAR suggested.

Visit http://www.raiseyourvoice.com for further information.

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Issue #373 -- 2/4/05

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