Pubdate: Thu, 22 Dec 2005
Source: Journal Gazette, The (IN)
Copyright: 2005 The Journal Gazette
Author: Sylvia A. Smith, Washington Editor
Cited:  Students for a Sensible Drug Policy
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)


Undoes Souder Ban for Drug Convictions

WASHINGTON  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.

Souder has maintained for years that the original intent of the law
was to withhold federal aid from college students who sold or
possessed illegal drugs, not punish someone for an offense committed
before enrolling in college. He said faulty interpretations by the
Clinton and Bush administrations led to an overly broad

Souder was out of town and could not be reached Wednesday. But in a
conversation Monday, he said if the Senate passed the budget bill, he
would consider the student loan changes one of his major
accomplishments this year.

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

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 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

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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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake