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House Education and Labor Committee Passes Measure Exempting Drug Possessors from Losing Financial Aid

Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To HEA Drug Offense Restriction

Scholarships Bypass Federal Aid Restrictions

Students For Sensible Drug Policy Releases Data On Those Impacted By HEA Loan Ban

Students, ACLU Sue To Overturn Higher Education Loan Ban

Falling Through The Cracks: Coalition For Higher Education Act Reform Issues Report On Aid Denial Provision

Different Versions Of Legislation Reconciled, HEA Reform Awaits President's Signature

Students For Sensible Drug Policy Files Freedom Of Information Act Suit Against US Department of Education

Senate Passes Provision Partially Reforming The Drug Provision Of The Higher Education Act

Removing Impediments To to Students' Education: Frank and 50 Cosponsors Introduce New Legislation to Reform HEA

SSDP Day Of Action for HEA Reform April 13, 2004

Bill In Congress Would Repeal HEA Drug Provision

National Day Of Action Against The HEA Drug Provision April 10

Coalition Pushes For Passage Of HR 786, Rep. Frank's Bill To Dump Student Aid Ban

Decision By Yale Brings To Four The Number Of Schools Helping Students Impacted By HEA Drug Provision

Bearded In His Den: Students Face Off With HEA Drug Provision Sponsor Souder

Administration Begins Enforcing Rule Denying Education Aid On Basis Of Prior Drug Conviction

Rep. Barney Frank Introduces HEA Reform Bill

Resources For More Information

Higher Education Act Reform


Federal Rules Denying Student Aid To Former Drug Offenders Off Mark

House Education and Labor Committee Passes Measure Exempting Drug Possessors from Losing Financial Aid

The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, hometown news outlet of Rep. Mark Souder, reported July 22, 2009 that the House Education and Labor Committee "eased restrictions [...] on students who are convicted of drug possession, erasing a provision authored by [Souder]" in 1999, which "limits [drug offenders'] access to federally guaranteed student loans" ("Critics Try to Soften Souder Law"). If the bill wins approval from the full House and the Senate, students convicted of possessing illicit substances "would no longer risk losing the scholarships, loans and work-study assistance" on which they might depend to continue their educations. Current law denies access to such funding to students convicted of drug offenses during their academic tenures. Although "limits on student aid would" under the proposed legislation "continue on students convicted of selling illegal drugs," the late July vote brings students found guilty of possessing drugs one step closer to holding onto the financial aid they need to reach their educational and other related goals.

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Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To HEA Drug Offense Restriction

The 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals has rejected a suit challenging Higher Education Act's restriction on aid for students with a drug offense.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on April 29, 2008 ("Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To Law Denying Student Aid To Drug Offenders") that "Opponents of a law that prevents students who are convicted of drug offenses from receiving federal financial aid were handed another legal defeat today. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, upholding a 2006 decision by a U.S. District Court, has refused to reinstate a lawsuit that sought to strike down the law."

According to the Chronicle, "In its ruling the appeals court rejected arguments by the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Foundation, which filed the appeal, that the federal law is unconstitutional. The group argued, in part, that denial of financial aid by the Education Department to students who have already served a court-imposed sentence violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on double jeopardy, criminally punishing someone twice for the same offense. But the appeals court said that the federal law's sanctions cannot be considered criminally punitive, especially in the double-jeopardy context.

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Scholarships Bypass Federal Aid Restrictions

As Congress limits financial aid through a 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act for thousands of students each year, colleges and universities across the country are establishing scholarships for these individuals. On March 2, 2007 the Daily Orange stated ( "Stoner Scholarship")"That amendment mandates a one-year aid suspension of aid for possession of a controlled substance for first time offenders. A two-year suspension is required for the second offense. Students with three drug-use convictions or two drug-dealing convictions are deemed permanently ineligible. Alcohol is not considered a controlled substance.The U.S. Department of Education reported that almost two thirds of Americans received aid - be it public or private - during the 2003-2004 school year."

According to the Daily Orange, "The student government at the University of California, Berkeley recently created a school-funded scholarship for students deemed ineligible for financial aid because of a previous drug conviction. The Berkeley bill, which included co-sponsorship from 10 of the 20 senators, enables the school to join the ranks of Yale University, Swarthmore College, Hampshire College and Western Washington University as institutions allowing students deemed ineligible by FAFSA standards to receive money.'It's absolutely ridiculous that we have a policy that takes money from people trying to go to school,' said David Wasserman, the senator in the Berkeley Associated Students that drafted the scholarship program and a senior political science major.'What it actually does is deprive students of a means to education ( which is ) antithetical to the aims of the Higher Education Act."

A Daily Orange interviewee stated "This one size fits all policy mandated from Washington takes away decision making power from campus officials who know what's best for students and their institution,' said Tom Angell, campaigns director at SSDP. 'More and more students, experts and even members of Congress are starting to realize that this penalty hurts not only the individual but society as a whole,' he said. While the Los Angeles Times reported the stipend covers about $400, Wasserman described it as a 'symbolic gesture to protest a law that we view as unjust.' The stipend also serves to show that Berkeley students are "putting our money where our mouth is,' Wasserman said."

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Students For Sensible Drug Policy Releases Data On Those Impacted By HEA Loan Ban

Thousands of young people have been denied student loans because of the HEA drug conviction loan ban, federal figures show. USA Today reported on April 17, 2006 ( "Drug Convictions Cost Students Their Financial Aid") that "One in every 400 students applying for federal financial aid for college is rejected because of a drug conviction, an analysis of Department of Education numbers by a drug policy overhaul group found. A study to be released today by Students for Sensible Drug Policy says 189,065 people have been turned down for financial aid since the federal government added a drug conviction question to the financial aid form in the 2000-01 school year."

According to USA Today, "The aid analysis, compiled by the student group from data released last week by the Department of Education, notes that Indiana has the highest percentage of rejections, with one in 200 students denied financial aid because of drug convictions. Indiana Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican and the author of the legislation, says it makes no difference how the states rank. 'The principle remains the same: the American taxpayer should not be subsidizing the educations of those students who are convicted of dealing or using illegal drugs,' Souder said in a statement provided Sunday. Other states ranking above the national average are Oregon, California, Washington, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Connecticut, Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Iowa and Alaska."

USA Today noted that "The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the constitutionality of the law in federal court. 'This is the only offense for which one can be denied financial aid,' says attorney Adam Wolf of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project based in Santa Cruz, Calif. Congress passed a law in 1998 that made drug convictions a disqualification for receiving aid. Students must now answer, 'Have you ever been convicted of possession or selling illegal drugs?' when filling out their application. Students who do not answer the question are disqualified."

More information about SSDP's suit and the federal loan data is available from the SSDP website.

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Students, ACLU Sue To Overturn Higher Education Loan Ban

The American Civil Liberties Union and Students for Sensible Drug Policy have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the ban on student loans to those with a previous drug conviction. The Dayton Daily News reported on March 22, 2006 ("ACLU Says Student-Loan Ban Unconstitutional") that "The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday challenged the constitutionality of a six-year-old federal law that blocks students convicted of a drug offense from obtaining federal student loans. 'Closing the campus gates denies these students a crucial chance to get themselves back on track by staying in school,' said ACLU attorney Adam Wolf, who called the law 'an unfair and irrational barrier to education ( that ) singles out working-class Americans.' The lawsuit was filed in federal court in South Dakota. One Dayton-area college financial aid administrator wonders why no one challenged the law sooner. Emphasizing she was speaking for herself and not on behalf of the college, Kathy L. Wiesenauer, director of Sinclair Community College's financial aid office, said the Higher Education Act 'unfairly singles out a class of individuals who have already paid their debt to society through fines, imprisonment or service to the community.' Wiesenauer said the law allows financial aid to rapists, murderers or sexual predators but not to drug offenders. And it discriminates against the poor, she said. 'Wealthy folks who are not in need of financial assistance to attend college are in no way penalized for their past indiscretions,' Wiesenauer said. 'They can simply pay their tuition and be about their business.'"

Advocates scored an early victory by getting the Education Department to give over data on the students who have been denied loans. The UC-San Diego Guardian reported on April 4, 2006 ( "Feds To Release Student Drug Use Data") that "The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to release a demographic breakdown of the 200,000 students denied federal aid due to drug convictions, settling a lawsuit filed last month by the advocacy group Students for a Sensible Drug Policy. 'This is a huge victory,' said Tom Angell, SSDP's campaigns director. 'We're very excited.' The settlement is the latest development in the group's campaign to rescind a law that prevents students with drug convictions from receiving federal aid."

According to the Guardian, "About a year ago, SSDP requested under the Freedom of Information Act that the Department of Education release a 'state-by-state breakdown' of students denied aid, according to a statement by SSDP Executive Director Kris Krane. The Department of Education initially asked SSDP to pay !4,000 for the information, but the federal agency agreed to waive the fee when the student group threatened to challenge it in court. The Department of Education declined to comment on the settlement."

Regarding the active suit, the Guardian noted that "The undecided lawsuit, filed in February by SSDP and the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the drug provision 'interferes with the objectives of drug treatment, drug prevention and criminal rehabilitation by denying a higher education -- and its attendant economic benefits -- to those convicted of drug offenses.' The lawsuit, which cites three examples of upstanding college students denied federal aid because of their drug convictions, declares the law to be unconstitutional for violating the Constitution's 'double jeopardy' and 'due process' clauses, and asks that the Department of Education cease denying federal aid to these students."

The Guardian also noted that "Rep. Barney Frank ( D-Mass. ) and 69 cosponsors recently introduced a bill in Congress that would rescind the drug provision. 'After we have received the information from the Department of Education, we're going to have to go to Congress to show them how much this law affects their own constituents,' Angell said. 'The government is on notice now that students won't allow them to cover [this] up.'"

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Falling Through The Cracks: Coalition For Higher Education Act Reform Issues Report On Aid Denial Provision

The Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) issued a report Feb. 7, 2006 on the impact of aid denial due to the drug provision of the Act. As explained by CHEAR in its report, "This report details the findings of research conducted on how the 50 states and the District of Columbia determine eligibility for state-based financial aid for persons who have reported having drug convictions on Question 31 of the Free Application for Student Financial Aid (FAFSA). The report also makes recommendations for how states can clarify the situation so that students losing federal aid because of drug convictions can still receive state aid."

According to the report, "Falling Through the Cracks: Loss of State-Based Financial Aid Eligibility for Students Affected by the Federal Higher Education Act Drug Provision":
"States fall into three categories with respect to how they handle financial aid applications from individuals affected by the HEA drug provision (Question 31 on the FAFSA):
"RED: 24 states deny state-based resources to applicants who are ineligible for federal financial aid, meaning persons with drug convictions also lose state aid. Seven states have adopted laws explicitly denying aid to persons with prior drug or other criminal convictions; in other states it is solely a matter of administrative convenience or agency policy.
"YELLOW: State financial aid offices in 11 states allow the determination of an applicant’s eligibility to be decided by the individual school that the applicant wishes to attend. In this “decentralized” approach, each school determines on its own how it deals with drug convictions that trigger the federal ban – they either rely on federal eligibility determinations and deny state aid as well, or they ignore question 31 on the FAFSA and award state based aid based on other criteria.
"GREEN: State financial aid offices in 15 states and the District of Columbia now or will soon ignore the drug conviction question when evaluating an applicant’s eligibility by using a separate application or by ignoring responses to Question 31.
"Legislatures, executive branches, state agencies, and postsecondary institutions wishing to act on this issue have the following measures available to them:
"•Legislatures can mandate that state financial aid resources be made available to applicants irrespective of drug convictions.
"•State agencies or schools making financial aid decisions can set up alternatives to the FAFSA in order to provide aid to financially eligible students with drug convictions, assuming state law does not mandate denial of aid because of drug convictions or strict adherence to federal financial aid determinations.
"•Legislatures and institutions can adopt resolutions calling on the U.S. Congress to repeal the HEA drug provision."

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Different Versions Of Legislation Reconciled, HEA Reform Awaits President's Signature

Congress approved the final form of legislation containing reforms to the Higher Education Act in early February 2006. The Drug War Chronicle reported on Feb. 3, 2006 ( "Congress Passes Partial Reform To Law Barring Financial Aid To Students With Drug Convictions") that "College students saw a $12.7 billion reduction in student loan spending in the budget bill passed by the House of Representatives Wednesday. But in passing the bill, Congress also provided some small solace for some of them because it also scaled back the much-reviled Higher Education Act (HEA) drug provision. That law, authored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) in 1998, bars students with drug convictions -- no matter how minor -- from receiving student financial assistance for specified periods of time (a year to indefinite) from their conviction dates. The change approved by the House amends the HEA to allow some students with past offenses to receive aid, but still retains the penalty for those whose offenses were committed while they were enrolled in school, and receiving aid. Wednesday's vote was a final procedural vote on the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, which both houses approved late last year. It now goes to President Bush to be signed into law."

According to the Chronicle, "'After years of political posturing and empty promises, Congress has finally helped some students harmed by this misguided policy,' said Kris Krane, newly-named executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. 'But this minor change is just a ploy to sweep the penalty's problems under the rug. Tens of thousands of students will still be pulled out of school every year because politicians failed to listen to our concerns. The only option students have left is to take action in court.' DRCNet's David Borden, who has pressed the issue since the drug provision was passed in 1998, was more sanguine about continuing the legislative campaign. 'The Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) approved further-reaching changes to the law before the education language got moved to the budget bill. This did not get its fair share of discussion because there was no education conference committee and the budget conference committee existed only on paper. We intend to press for Congress to remove the drug question from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form -- which their own Advisory Committee Congress appointed recommended -- the next time they look at the Higher Education Act, which will probably be this year.'"

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Students For Sensible Drug Policy Files Freedom Of Information Act Suit Against US Department of Education

In January 2006, Students For Sensible Drug Policy filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Education over a Freedom of Information Act dispute. The publication Education Week reported on Feb. 1, 2006 ( "Ed Dept Is Sued Over Data On Student-Loan Applicants") that "An organization that advocates an end to the nation's "war on drugs" sued the Department of Education last week for charging $4,100 for data on the answers given by federal college-loan applicants to a question about convictions for drug-related crimes."

According to Education Week, "In 2004, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington, asked for the data going back to 2000 and broken down by state, under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The group claimed an exemption from the processing fee under a provision of FOIA covering the disclosure of information that contributes significantly to public understanding of government operations and that is not primarily in the requestor's commercial interest. In a Sept. 20 letter to SSDP, Michell C. Clark, the Education Department's chief information officer, said the group had not shown that there was a public interest in the information, and that he couldn't rule out that SSDP's campaign 'could directly benefit those who would profit from the deregulation or legalization of drugs.'"

A PDF copy of the complaint can be downloaded from here or from the SSDP website.

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Senate Passes Provision Partially Reforming The Drug Provision Of The Higher Education Act

The US Senate approved language which partially reforms the infamous drug provision of the Higher Education Act. The Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette reported on Dec. 22, 2005 ( "Senate Acts To Lift Bar On College Aid") that "Students with drug convictions in their pre-college years will no longer be cut out of the $67 million federal pool for grants, loans or work-study assistance. Students will lose all or part of their eligibility for federally subsidized aid, however, if they are convicted of drug offenses while they are enrolled at a college or university. A 100-word section in a sweeping budget bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday changes the student aid provisions – written seven years ago by Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd – that blocked assistance to students with drug offenses committed at any time in their lives. That included, for instance, any adult who embarked on a college career a decade or more after a high school-era drug conviction and who had a clean record since then."

According to the Journal Gazette, "Statistics about how many students have been affected by the provision since it went into effect for the 2000-01 academic year are difficult to come by. An organization that has campaigned against the Souder law since its inception – Students for a Sensible Drug Policy – says 182,000 students have been ruled ineligible for student aid as a result of their answers on an application that asks about drug convictions. But the group said because of the way the Department of Education collects the data, it can’t be certain that all those students were ineligible solely because of their drug offenses. The group praised the change as 'a major victory' and claimed credit for the change. 'Only because of the years of sustained pressure by student activists did Congress reform this disastrous law,' the group's legislative director, Erik Cooke, said in a blog entry shortly after the Senate approved the budget bill. He said, however, the entire provision should be repealed."

The Journal Gazette noted that "The ban involves a small fraction of the more than 10 million people who annually fill out the application for federal grants, work-study money or subsidized loans. For a first drug-possession offense, ineligibility lasts a year after conviction; for a second offense, two years. More convictions bar aid indefinitely. But a single drug-sale conviction means no aid for two years afterward; more convictions, and the ban lasts indefinitely. Those facing loss of aid indefinitely can, however, get that lifted by successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program. The budget bill that includes the change was approved by the House last week before being sent to the Senate. Because the Senate made some changes, the legislation will have to go back to the House for another vote before it is sent to President Bush for his signature."

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Removing Impediments To to Students' Education: Frank and 50 Cosponsors Introduce New Legislation to Reform HEA

Congressman Barney Frank along with 50 cosponsors introduced a bill ( HR1184) on March 9, 2005 to repeal the Higher Education Act's drug question. According to the ACLU in its news release of March 10, 2005:
"'The Department of Education is not, and should not be, the Drug Enforcement Agency,' said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU legislative counsel. 'Otherwise qualified students are being punished twice. These are students that have already faced the criminal consequences of their actions. This policy makes it even harder for those students most in need of financial aid to get it.'
"McCurdy spoke today at a news conference hosted by the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, of which the ACLU is a member. Specifically, the coalition is calling on Congress to adopt the Removing Impediments to Students' Education (RISE) Act, recently introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) with 50 co-sponsors.
"The RISE Act aims to repeal the drug provision of the Higher Education Act. Since that policy was enacted in 2000, more than 160,000 students have been denied financial aid for past drug convictions. This number does not take into account those individuals who may not have sought financial aid out of fear that their prior drug convictions would preclude them from receiving money.
"The drug provision has drawn criticism as it, by its design, impacts low and middle-income people, and as a result, a disproportionate number of minorities. According to the higher education coalition, in federal courts, 43 percent of those convicted of a drug offense are Hispanic and 29 percent are African American. In state courts, 53 percent of those convicted of a drug offense are African American.
"The ACLU also pointed to a study conducted by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, an independent body created by Congress to examine higher education and student aid policy. That report, called "The Student Aid Gauntlet: Making Access to College Simple and Certain," recommended that the drug provision of the Higher Education Act be removed, calling it a deterrent for some students to apply for aid."

(The specific recommendation from "The Student Aid Gauntlet" is as follows: "Drop the drug conviction and Selective Service questions. Students are currently required to answer three questions on the FAFSA regarding their drug conviction and Selective Service registration status. These questions add complexity to the form and can deter some students from applying for financial aid. Elimination of these questions will not alter need analysis or the delivery of federal and state aid, and will simplify the application process for all applicants.
"By eliminating irrelevant questions from the form, Congress can extend the benefits of simplification to applicants at all income levels and reduce the total number of data elements.")

For more information on efforts to reform the Higher Education Act, check out the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, the ACLU's Drug Policy Project, and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. News about the Higher Education Act is available through the Media Awareness Archive and also through Google News.

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SSDP Day Of Action On HEA Reform April 13, 2004

Students for Sensible Drug Policy invites college campuses and communities nationwide to participate in its 2004 HEA Day of Action. For more information on SSDP and the HEA reform campaign, check out the SSDP site.

Bill In Congress Would Repeal HEA Drug Provision

Student activists and drug policy reformers working to eliminate the HEA drug provision have a bill to support in Congress. As noted on AlterNet Feb. 13, 2004 ( "Raise Your Voice For Sensible Drug Laws"), "The vast majority of Americans convicted of drug offenses are convicted of non-violent, low-level possession. Certain drug offense provisions to the Higher Education Act (HEA) have resulted in a disproportionate impact on minorities, namely African-Americans, who make up 13% of the population, but 55% of those convicted of drug possession. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is calling on Congress to support H.R. 685, a bill to repeal the HEA drug provision, which delays or denies grants and loans to students convicted of any drug offense. SSDP is also working to get a bipartisan version introduced in the Senate."

For more information about the HEA reform campaign, visit RaiseYourVoice.com. You can get a copy of HR685 from the Thomas service of the Library of Congress, or from the Government Printing Office website by clicking here.

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National Day Of Action Against The HEA Drug Provision April 10

150 SSDP chapters around the United States will be participating in the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Higher Education Act National Day of Action. For more information click here.

Students and activists will be involved in a day of nationally coordinated lobbying, media outreach, and grass roots activism efforts in calling for the repeal of the Higher Education Act drug provision.

Students for Sensible Drug Policy has been a leader in the fight to repeal the Higher Education Act drug provision -- a misguided law which denies students convicted of drug offenses access to federal financial aid for higher learning. Put students back where they belong: in school. End this legislative fossil of our nation's the failed War on Drugs

Over 100 student governments have called for the repeal of the HEA drug provision. Additionally, SSDP chapters have helped create four scholarship and loan programs to replace aid lost by students with drug convictions.

Day of Action Plan:

Get students to call or fax their Representatives in support of HR 685, the bill to repeal the drug provision. Find your Representative at: www.house.gov.

Have your Student Government to call for a repeal of the drug provision Visit: www.RaiseYourVoice.com.

Have your Student Government President contact your Representatives to inform them about the passage of your HEA Drug Provision Resolution

Hold a teach-in, where students speak on the harms and fouls of the HEA drug provision

Pass out flyers and have students sign a petition in your Student Union. Have that petition sent to your Representative.

Write a letter or column in your school newspaper, calling for you school's administration to publicly support the repeal of the drug provision.

Schedule a meeting with your Financial Aid director and School President, at which you can discuss the HEA drug provision.

Get your Financial Aid director to issue a report on the harms of the HEA drug provision at your school.

Make signs, hold a rally, and call the local press.

Hold a benefit concert. Donate the proceeds to the Perry Fund. Visit www.RaiseYourVoice.com/perryfund/.

If you need help with your Day of Action, call Ben at SSDP, (202) 293-4414, or email ben@ssdp.org.

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Coalition Pushes For Passage Of HR 786, Rep. Frank's Bill To Dump Student Aid Ban

Congressman Barney Frank appeared along with other members of Congress, student activists, and leaders from civil rights organizations to voice their support for HR 786, Rep. Frank's bill to repeal the ban on student aid for those students who have had a drug conviction. The Boston Globe reported on May 23, 2002 ( "Student Drug Offender Law Knocked") that "After four years on the books, a law that was aimed at steering college students away from drugs is under fire. Its congressional sponsor acknowledges that the aid ban has had the unintended consequence of denying thousands of college-age Americans federal financial aid, and higher-education officials contend it is deterring tens of thousands more from applying for money that helps many low-income and minority students pay for college."

According to the Globe, "According to the department, a total of 25,000 applicants were denied federal aid because of drug offenses for the 2000-01 and 2001-02 academic years, and 2,000 already have been disqualified for the upcoming school year. Advocates for students say the department is not counting the 33,000 additional applicants last year, and 19,500 this year, who refused to answer or have not yet answered the mandatory question, 'Have you ever been convicted of using drugs?' Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Newton, says the law is a 'hysterical overreaction' because 'it doesn't cover any other crime, so possession of marijuana must be worse than armed assault or rape.' More than 60 members of the US House of Representatives are cosponsoring Frank's bill to repeal the antidrug provision."

According to the Library of Congress's Thomas Legislative Research Service, HR 786 had 66 cosponsors as of June 1, 2002.

According to the Congressman's office "Coalition Files Bill To Repeal Ban On Federal Financial Aid To Students With Drug Convictions"), "'Someone who commits murder or armed robbery is not automatically barred from financial aid eligibility,' Frank said, 'but if you have even one non-violent drug conviction you can't get any aid for a year, with longer bans for people with additional convictions. If someone is a major dealer or has committed multiple violent drug offenses, making them ineligible is appropriate, but the authorities previously had the discretion to bar aid to people based on the severity of their crimes and whether they are taking steps to rehabilitate themselves. My bill would simply restore that discretion. This would allow some people, who may have had difficulties with drugs but are now taking steps to improve their lives by pursuing a higher education, to continue to be eligible for aid. This will help ensure that people in low to moderate income families -- who really need the aid -- are not treated unfairly.'"

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Decision By Yale Brings To Four The Number Of Schools Helping Students Impacted By HEA Drug Provision

Yale University has announced that it will begin helping students negatively impacted by the drug offender student aid restriction. According to Yale Daily News ( "Yale To Reimburse Aid Lost Under Higher Ed Act") on April 5, 2002, the university is implementing a new policy "that will reimburse students for financial aid for which they would otherwise be ineligible under the 'Drug Free Student Aid' provision of the Higher Education Act, Director of University Financial Aid Myra Smith said."

As the Daily News reported, "Andrew Allison '04 wrote the Yale College Council resolution passed Feb. 27 asking the University to take the steps delineated in the new policy. 'I'm thrilled with the announcement and I think it's a great victory for student activism,' Allison said. 'I think the administration deserves praise for taking such bold and reasoned action.' Kat Banakis '03, a member of Student Legal Action Movement, said she is glad to see the efforts of SLAM, the New Haven and Yale chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, and other campus groups who have rallied around this issue finally pay off. 'It's very rare in activism that you actually get something back, so this is incredible,' Banakis said. 'It's also wonderful that the Yale administration is being receptive to student resolutions and protests and willing to work with the finances that they have to do something that students have been asking for.'

Under the new policy, "Yale will only offer supplemental aid to students who have lost eligibility because of possession of illegal drugs, and not to those who lost federal aid for selling illegal drugs. The policy also requires students who receive the replacement aid to complete a drug rehabilitation program at University Health Services or another qualifie health care provider approved by UHS."

In addition to Yale, 3 other colleges help students affected by this aid ban: Western Washington University has established a scholarship fund to give those in need $750 toward their education ( "Aid Fills Gap After Drug Convictions," Bellingham Herald, Jan. 21, 2002); Swarthmore College and Hampshire College offer grants or loans to such students to replace the lost federal aid ( "Foes Work Past College Aid Ban Authored By Indiana Congressman," Associated press, March 25, 2002; "Board Decides To Cover Aid For Drug Offenders," Swarthmore Univ. Phoenix, Feb. 28, 2002)

In addition to these school-sponsored programs, the John W. Perry Fund was created recently by DRCNet together with Students for Sensible Drug Policy and others concerned with civil justice issues. According to the Perry Fund website, "The John W. Perry Fund will award scholarships of up to $2,000 to students affected by the HEA drug provision, who have the greatest financial need (educational expenses less other available resources), but also for whom our assistance will be most likely to be effective in enabling them to both attend and succeed in school. Applicants will have the option to spend scholarship funds on drug treatment programs to restore their eligibility for federal aid; however, applicants are encouraged to use this option only if they have an actual substance abuse problem. It is projected that the typical award will be in the neighborhood of $1,000."

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Bearded In His Den: Students Face Off With HEA Drug Provision Sponsor Souder

Student activists are taking the campaign to repeal the HEA drug provision directly to the source. US Representative Mark Souder (R-IN), the prime sponsor of the HEA's provision denying student aid to those convicted of drug charges, has been faced with protesters in his home district. As the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette reported February 24, 2002 ( "Students Grill Souder On Drug Policy He Wrote,"), "Souder, R-4th, appeared at a Sallie Mae Fund financial aid seminar and left Gunderson Auditorium quickly as Shawn Heller, national director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, stood up to ask him about the 1998 Higher Education Act. Heller and four other members from the group followed Souder outside, asking him about provisions in the act which can cut financial aid eligibility for 12 months for a first conviction of drug possession, two years for a second and indefinitely for a third conviction."

Souder seemed agitated by the confrontation. According to the Journal Gazette, "'No one who's ever committed a drug crime in their life should be denied a loan,' Souder said heatedly while holding his open hand close to Heller's face." In an story in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, the Congressman publicly declared his unwillingness to debate Heller. As Daniel Forbes reported in Rolling Stone Magazine on March 14, 2002 ( "Students Fight Drug-War Dragnet"), "But Heller - who carved a notch on his belt when the Capitol Hill paper Roll Call said Souder was 'ducking a debate' with him - says he has a few surprises up his sleeve for spotlighting the issue during Souder's campaign for re-election."

You can view a streaming RealMedia video of the confrontation between Souder and SSDP by clicking here, and a collection of articles on the HEA reform effort is available by clicking here.

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Administration Begins Enforcing Rule Denying Education Aid On Basis Of Prior Drug Conviction

The Bush administration has decided to reverse a Clinton-era policy and begin to "enforce a previously ignored law denying federal financial aid to college students with drug convictions. Hundreds of thousands of applicants who did not answer a drug conviction question on their applications were not denied aid during the Clinton administration, despite the law saying they should have been. Now, failure to answer the question will result in rejection of the application." ( "Bush To Enforce Financial Aid Drug Law," Associated Press, April 17, 2001) "Critics say the law unfairly punishes less wealthy applicants because they are the ones who need financial aid and encourages people with drug convictions to lie. 'If they tell the truth, they're not going to get their aid; but if they lie, they are going to get their aid,' said Shawn Heller, director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. 'It sets a terrible example.' Officials acknowledge there's little defense against lying because they lack resources to check all 10 million applications received annually. Instead, they conduct random audits."

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Rep. Barney Frank Introduces HEA Reform Bill

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) sponsored a bill to repeal a federal law which withholds "grants, loans or work assistance from people convicted, under federal or state law, of possession or sale of controlled substances." As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune on March 1, 2001, Rep. Frank said "Someone who commits murder or armed robbery is not automatically barred from financial aid eligibility. But if you have even one nonviolent drug conviction, you can't get any aid for a year."

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that 8,000 students nationwide lost financial aid in 2001 because of the HEA provision. The Enquirer story focused March 11, 2001 ( "Teen Presses Case Against Drug Rule") on one Ohio State University sophomore, Russell Selkirk, who lost his financial aid because he had honestly answered the question of whether he had ever been convicted of a drug crime (as a freshman Mr. Selkirk had been caught smoking marijuana in the parking lot of a bar).

According to a March 16, 2001 story in The Justice, a publication at Brandeis University ( "Federal Financial Aid Takes A Hit" ), "Last year, the (Education) department found that approximately 20 percent of applicants had left blank the question on the Family Application for Federal Student Aid that inquires into previous drug convictions." The Justice reports that Frank's bill "has been officially endorsed by 43 student governments, most recently the Brandeis Union Senate."

According to the Congressman's office "Coalition Files Bill To Repeal Ban On Federal Financial Aid To Students With Drug Convictions"), "'Someone who commits murder or armed robbery is not automatically barred from financial aid eligibility,' Frank said, 'but if you have even one non-violent drug conviction you can't get any aid for a year, with longer bans for people with additional convictions. If someone is a major dealer or has committed multiple violent drug offenses, making them ineligible is appropriate, but the authorities previously had the discretion to bar aid to people based on the severity of their crimes and whether they are taking steps to rehabilitate themselves. My bill would simply restore that discretion. This would allow some people, who may have had difficulties with drugs but are now taking steps to improve their lives by pursuing a higher education, to continue to be eligible for aid. This will help ensure that people in low to moderate income families -- who really need the aid -- are not treated unfairly.'"

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Resources For More Information

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

Drug Reform Coordination Network (DRCNet)

RaiseYourVoice.com

Financial aid applications now contain the question of whether a prospective student has ever had any kind of drug conviction. A first offense possession conviction makes a student ineligible for one year after the date of conviction, a second offense for two years. A third possession conviction results in indefinite ineligibility, and the law is tougher for drug sales convictions. The original HEA drug legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN). According to the Union-Trib, Rep. Souder is "more hopeful about the Bush administration enforcing this as intended than the way the Clinton administration implemented it." Rep. Souder was referring to the fact that under Clinton, those who chose to not answer the question were not penalized. Under his law, they should have been denied aid.

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