Pubdate: Tue, 26 Jun 2007
Source: Daily Texan (U of TX at Austin, Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Daily Texan
Author: Zachary Posner
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)


Eligibility for federal student assistance is suspended  for students 
convicted of a drug crime while receiving  aid.

A bill recently passed by a Senate committee may bring  relief to 
financially dependent students who can no  longer receive federal aid 
due to drug convictions.

The amendment to the Higher Education Act, which  suspended 
eligibility for federal student assistance of  any student who is 
convicted of a drug crime, was  authored in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder, 
R-Ind., but was  changed last year to only affect students who 
committed  offenses while receiving aid.

The provision was not the main focus of the Higher  Education Access 
Act of 2007, but could affect many  students. According to a study 
released by Students for  Sensible Drug Policy, there have been more 
than 200,000  students in the nation and 15,026 students in Texas who 
have been denied federal aid because of drug  convictions since the 
law was enacted in 1999.

However, UT has had fewer than five such instances,  said Henry 
Urick, assistant director of UT's Student  Financial Services. Austin 
Community College reported  zero.

The report was drawn directly from the Department of  Education's 
numbers on students who were denied aid due  to their answer or 
non-answer to the "drug" question.

"The reason for the discrepancy may be that once the  student is 
denied, they simply may decide not go to  school," said Micah Daigle, 
director for Students for  Sensible Drug Policy.

"I believe that students who are dealing or abusing  drugs probably 
aren't making the most of their  educations," Souder, who was not 
available for comment  Monday, states on his Web site. "It's one 
thing if they  are going to do it with their own money or if 
their  parents are going to pay, but it's something else to  ask the 
American taxpayer to fund this kind of  behavior."

Adam Wolf, a staff attorney for the American Civil  Liberties Union, 
has been arguing his case against the  policy for over a year. He is 
currently in the process  of appealing the class-action complaint 
that was filed  by three students and dismissed by federal courts in  October.

Wolf said that he is arguing two claims: double  jeopardy, citing 
that students shouldn't be punished a  second time for their drug 
offenses, and equal  protection.

"You can be convicted of a rape, a murder, or for  defrauding the 
federal government for student loans,"  he said. "But if you are 
caught with a small amount of  marijuana, then you can't receive 
money for school."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom