Pubdate: Tue, 04 Apr 2006
Source: Daily Bruin (UCLA, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2006, ASUCLA Student Media
Author: Helen Yim
Cited: Students for Sensible Drug Policy
Cited: American Civil Liberties Union
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)
Bookmark: (Students for Sensible Drug Policy)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Group Says Law Prohibiting Financial Aid to Offenders Is 
Unconstitutional, Hurts Lower Class

The U.S. Department of Education has recently been hit by a series of
lawsuits from groups seeking to repeal a policy that prevents college
students who have been convicted of drug offenses from receiving
federal financial aid.

The first suit concluded last week when the Department of Education
agreed to provide Students for Sensible Drug Policy, one of the groups
opposing the policy, with data on the effects of the law - broken down
by state - and waived the $4,000 fee the department had initially
planned to charge.

The group filed a lawsuit in January asserting that it had a right
under the Freedom of Information Act to access the information for

The second suit was filed jointly by the American Civil Liberties
Union and Students for Sensible Drug Policy last week and asserts that
the law is unconstitutional.

The Department of Education could not comment on the specifics of
either case for legal reasons.

The policy is based on a 1998 decision by the U.S. Congress that
taxpayer dollars should not be used to give aid to students who have
been convicted of a drug offense.

Since the law was put into effect in 2000, 200,000 people nationwide
have been denied federal aid for this reason, said Kris Krane,
executive director of the student group.

Chad Von Ins, financial aid adviser at the UCLA Financial Aid Office,
said few of those denied have been UCLA students.

"We don't usually get students that fall into that category," he said,
adding that the number was so few it was not a significant
consideration for the office.

One reason for this could be that students with drug convictions,
knowing they will not receive financial aid, do not even bother to
apply, said Tom Angell, campaigns director for the student group.

Many students with drug convictions "never even completed an
application," he said.

Angell added he hopes the recently acquired data will be used by
legislators to write "more intelligent laws" because it will give them
more specific information about how their state is affected by the

But more than providing a means to continue their efforts toward
changing the government's policy, Angell said he sees the fee waiver
as a victory in itself.

The group's successful campaign for the waiver has shown that
"representatives in Congress, financial aid administrators and parents
are opposed to this law," he said.

A major point of contention about the policy is that it targets
applicants with drug offenses but not students with other criminal

"They don't ask if you are a rapist or if you've killed anyone," Von
Ins said. "I think it's a little ironic."

Members of the student group, the ACLU and other groups who oppose the
law also see it more broadly as a question of fairness and have been
working to repeal the law since it was passed.

One problem, according to members of the student group and ACLU, is
that the policy is an ineffective way to combat the problem of drug

"There are better ways to keep people from drugs," and one of the most
effective ways is through education, said Allen Hopper, senior staff
attorney with the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project.

Hopper cited the pursuit of academic goals and extracurricular
activities, which are facilitated through attending college, as a way
to reduce student drug abuse that would be more effective than the
current policy.

The student group has also been working to repeal the policy because
members believe it prevents low-income students with drug offenses
from attending college while it does not have the same effect on
wealthier students with the same types of convictions.

"The law is completely discriminatory based on income," Angell said.
"Rich students who need no financial aid are not affected."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake