Pubdate: Fri, 15 Apr 2005
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2005 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Liz Goldberg
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)


Collins Urged To Support Student Aid Change

WASHINGTON - Wayne Toothaker Jr. says he knows he made a mistake in using 
and trafficking in drugs. But he does not think a lifestyle he put behind 
him a year ago should be preventing him now from getting financial aid for 
college. "I learned my lesson," said Toothaker, who said he is in a drug 
rehabilitation program and has been clean for nearly a year. "I don't get 
involved with drugs or alcohol anymore. But because of that in my past, I 
can't get money to pay for college now."

Toothaker said the changes he has made in his lifestyle are not taken into 
consideration when he seeks college financial aid.

"All they see is I have that drug conviction," he said.

Sen. Susan Collins, for one, agrees that Congress may need to take a second 
look at the law that is keeping Toothaker and others from financial aid.

Toothaker is one of more than 160,500 students who have been denied federal 
financial aid for college since 2000, according to statistics from Students 
for Sensible Drug Policy, a Washington-based organization that "neither 
encourages nor condemns drug use" but attempts "to reduce the harms caused 
by drug abuse and drug policies," according to the group's Web site.

Beginning in 2000, students have been required to disclose drug convictions 
when filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Student groups 
have been fighting the provision since it was added to the Higher Education 
Act in 1998, said Tom Angell, communications director for Students for 
Sensible Drug Policy.

Toothaker said he was sentenced to six months in prison for marijuana 
trafficking. The sentence was suspended, he said, and he is serving a 
year's probation.

"I'm doing so much better now," said the 23-year-old Brunswick resident, 
who has worked as a dishwasher at a sports bar for almost a year. 
"Everybody who knows me can see the difference."

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., introduced a bill on March 9 to repeal the 
provision when the Higher Education Act is renewed this year. The bill has 
62 co-sponsors, including 1st District Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine.

Student governments at two universities in Maine are lobbying Collins to 
introduce a companion bill in the Senate, Angell said.

"She's been a leader on education issues in the past and she works well 
with folks on both sides of the aisle," Angell said of the organization's 
reasons for targeting Collins.

The general student senate at the University of Maine in Orono passed a 
resolution last week stating its opposition to the provision prohibiting 
financial aid for drug convicts, and the University of Southern Maine's 
student senate is expected to pass a similar resolution in a few weeks, 
Angell said.

In addition to the student groups, a "fairly broad coalition of higher ed 
and substance abuse organizations" have united to fight the law, Angell 
said. Included in that group are the Maine Higher Education Council, the 
Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs, the Maine Civil Liberties 
Union, the Maine Education Association, the Maine Association of Student 
Financial Aid Administrators and the Maine Association of Prevention Programs.

Several students met with a member of Collins' staff in Maine last week and 
said they "got some good signals" of support for the bill, Angell said.

"We really hope that it's all starting to come together and Sen. Collins 
will take action soon," he said.

In a statement, Collins said: "The law may be too sweeping in its scope and 
should be re-examined as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization. 
We need to consider the rehabilitative effect of education for some people."

Angell said a few senators have expressed interest in supporting a Senate 
bill, including Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

A Durbin representative said the senator is "examining the issue." Other 
senators Angell named as supporters of the bill could not be reached for 

Toothaker, meanwhile, said he is ineligible to receive financial aid for 
two years after his conviction.

"In two years I could get the degree that I want," he said, referring to 
the associate's degree in information technology he plans to pursue at 
Southern New Hampshire University.

"I'm a smart person," he said. "I could really do something with that if I 
go to school."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager