Pubdate: Thu, 23 Mar 2006
Source: Journal Gazette, The (IN)
Copyright: 2006 The Journal Gazette
Author: Sylvia A. Smith
Cited: American Civil Liberties Union
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


WASHINGTON - A Ball State sophomore is suing the federal government
over a law written by Rep. Mark Souder, R-3rd, that blocks financial
aid to college students with drug convictions.

In a class-action case filed in South Dakota, Alexis Schwab, two other
students and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, which has fought the
Souder law since it went into effect, say the law punishes people
twice for the same offense and does taxpayers more harm than good by
making education more difficult to get for some students.

Students lose all or part of their eligibility for federally
subsidized college loans or grants if they are convicted of drug
offenses while they are enrolled at a college or university.

In an e-mail from the Mideast, where he is traveling during a weeklong
congressional break, Souder called the lawsuit "nothing but
grandstanding and a publicity stunt."

He said that if the federal court in South Dakota doesn't toss out the
case, "it will force taxpayers to spend more money defending the law -
money that could be spent on education. This is yet another example of
why losers should pay. The ACLU should have to refund taxpayers for
this harassment."

Schwab was sentenced in August for marijuana possession. As a result,
she will be ineligible for financial aid next year "and will be forced
to take out a substantial high-interest loan ... in order to remain
enrolled in college," according to the lawsuit filed by the American
Civil Liberties Union.

It costs about $13,200 annually to attend Ball State, including room
and board. Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU, said Schwab has a
Pell grant this year; the maximum amount of that grant is $4,050.

Schwab, 20, a public relations major from North Judson, was sentenced
to community service for what an ACLU lawyer said was "less than a
gram" of marijuana, enough for about two joints. It was her first offense.

Wolf said Schwab didn't want to talk publicly about her arrest and the
lawsuit. There was no answer at the phone number listed for Schwab at
Ball State.

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 obtain. The ACLU's suit says 200,000 have lost their financial aid.

For a first drug-possession offense, ineligibility lasts a year after
conviction; for a second offense, two years. More convictions bar aid
indefinitely. 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 ACLU lawsuit said rehabilitation programs generally do not accept
applicants who have occasionally used drugs but are not addicts.

The ACLU noted that other students convicted of crimes - "from a
murderer to a shoplifter" - are not barred from receiving financial

The lawsuit also says the law unfairly singles out low-income and
minority students because wealthy students with drug convictions don't
need financial aid and because blacks account for 62 percent of those
convicted of drug offenses. 
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