HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Foes Work Past College Aid Ban Authored By Indiana
Pubdate: Mon, 25 Mar 2002
Source: Associated Press (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 Associated Press
Author: Arlene Levinson


Opponents of a 1998 law authored by an Indiana congressman that denies 
federal aid to thousands of college students with criminal drug records are 
trying to work around the law by offering financial help to those affected.

A coalition of drug-law reform groups plans Tuesday to inaugurate a 
scholarship for those denied aid because of drug records. The John W. Perry 
Fund scholarships honor a New York police officer who decried the war on 
drugs and died saving people in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

"He felt that adults should be able to do with their bodies whatever they 
wish, as long as they don't hurt anybody," said Perry's mother, Patricia 
Perry, of Seaford, N.Y.

"To punish students who are financially unable to get to college without 
this assistance is a travesty," she said. "John would very definitely be in 
favor of students like that."

In the same vein, two colleges _ Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., and 
Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania _ are offering loans or grants to such 

Critics have assailed the law since its inception.

The higher education lobby _ student activists to college presidents _ says 
the ban unfairly hits some of the people who need aid most, noting that 
affluent students with drug records don't need federal aid.

Even the law's author, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., says it's misinterpreted. 
He meant to bar aid only from students already getting federal aid when 
convicted, and last month proposed amending the law to make that clear.

The application for federal student aid asks applicants, among other 
things, "Have you ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs?"

Those with one drug-possession offense are ineligible for federal college 
aid for one year after conviction. A second drug-possession or first 
drug-sale conviction means ineligibility for two years. More convictions 
bar aid indefinitely, unless the offender undergoes drug rehabilitation.

By early March, 47,063 of the 10.5 million federal aid applicants for this 
school year face possible denial of aid for all or part of the year, or 
risk automatic rejection for not answering the conviction question, the 
U.S. Education Department says.

Among the first 2 million aid applicants for next school year, 9,448 are at 

Students opposed to the ban include Michele Butcher, a 21-year-old junior 
majoring in mining engineering at Southern Illinois University. She's 
already borrowed $10,000 in federal college loans and will need $8,000 more 
next year.

Butcher put her education in jeopardy when police last year found marijuana 
in her sorority house bedroom, and again in her pocket during a traffic 
stop. Each time, she said, she persuaded the judge not to convict her and 
was instead placed on supervision.

"I got by very closely," Butcher acknowledged. Now cautious and fearful, 
she also feels the ban is wrong. "It's not the government's business what I 
do," she said.

Hampshire College, after a campus-wide vote, three years ago created a loan 
for any student there denied federal aid because of a drug record. No one 
has tapped it yet, a spokeswoman said.

Hampshire President Gregory Prince does not condone drugs but calls the ban 
"part of a larger pattern of the discriminatory impact, intended or not 
intended, that the drug policy has had on different communities, 
particularly minority communities."

Last month, the governing board at Swarthmore College voted to make up the 
difference if any of its students can't get federal aid because of a drug 
conviction. The action hews to a school policy ensuring students' financial 
needs are met, a spokesman said. Few, if any, at Swarthmore are expected to 
need such help, he said.

A fund-raiser is planned Tuesday in New York to launch the Perry 
scholarships. The organizer is David Borden, founder of the Drug Reform 
Coordination Network in Washington, which favors social control and 
regulation over punitive laws and is one of several groups involved in the 

Borden hopes to raise $100,000 for scholarships of up to $2,000 each. While 
modest, for some it could mean whether they stay in school.

Perry had subscribed to the e-mail list for Borden's group, which for a 
year had been planning the scholarships, Borden said. After Perry's death, 
his friends in the drug-law reform movement suggested naming the 
scholarship in tribute to him, he said.

Perry, 38 when he died, was a lawyer before he joined the NYPD in the early 
1990s. He pounded a beat before his assignment to the legal department 
going after crooked cops.

He planned to return to law practice and was filing retirement papers at 
police headquarters when, on hearing of the attacks, he rushed to the World 
Trade Center.

On the Net:

Drug Reform Coordination Network:
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