HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Student Drug Offender Law Knocked
Pubdate: Wed, 22 May 2002
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Section: Page A3
Copyright: 2002 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Mary Leonard
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)


Some Question Ban On Federally Backed Loans For Offenders

WASHINGTON - Caton Volk, 22, looked at the financial-aid form and knew he 
would not be spending another semester at the University of Illinois. 
Convicted of possessing and distributing marijuana at age 18, Volk says he 
was touched in a large and personal way by a tiny provision in federal law 
that disqualifies college students with a drug offense from receiving 
government grants or federally backed loans.

After four years on the books, a law that was aimed at steering college 
students away from drugs is under fire. Its congressional sponsor 
acknowledges that the aid ban has had the unintended consequence of denying 
thousands of college-age Americans federal financial aid, and 
higher-education officials contend it is deterring tens of thousands more 
from applying for money that helps many low-income and minority students 
pay for college.

"This provision was clearly meant to apply only to students convicted of 
drug crimes while receiving federal aid, not to applicants who may have had 
drug convictions in years past," said Representative Mark Souder, an 
Indiana Republican who wrote the law.

A spokeswoman for the US Education Department said it has been implementing 
the law as written, and has no flexibility to change its provisions.

According to the department, a total of 25,000 applicants were denied 
federal aid because of drug offenses for the 2000-01 and 2001-02 academic 
years, and 2,000 already have been disqualified for the upcoming school year.

Advocates for students say the department is not counting the 33,000 
additional applicants last year, and 19,500 this year, who refused to 
answer or have not yet answered the mandatory question, "Have you ever been 
convicted of using drugs?"

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Newton, says the law is a 
"hysterical overreaction" because "it doesn't cover any other crime, so 
possession of marijuana must be worse than armed assault or rape."

More than 60 members of the US House of Representatives are cosponsoring 
Frank's bill to repeal the antidrug provision.

Yesterday, Volk and members of student groups that have organized against 
the law on 200 campuses joined Frank and representatives of civil rights 
groups at a news conference on Capitol Hill. They contend the law 
discriminates against minorities, who they say are disproportionately 
represented in both the financial aid and drug-conviction pool.

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators also backs 
the proposed repeal, arguing that the law discourages one-time offenders 
from turning their lives around and puts new burdens on college offices 
that manage aid programs.

Some college officials have been slow to speak out, fearful of giving the 
impression they condone drug use. Gregory S. Prince Jr., president of 
Hampshire College in Amherst, was the first college president to sign a 
petition calling for the law's repeal and has become one of its most vocal 

"I oppose [the law] on the grounds that it discriminates against the poor, 
I oppose it because it steps into our admissions process, and I oppose it 
because our goal should be to try to help people correct their mistakes and 
move forward, and education is one of the best ways," Prince said.

Despite the law's unintended consequences, Souder said he would not support 
repeal, and predicted the Republican-led House was unlikely to consider 
Frank's bill. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is expected 
to produce a set of "technical corrections" to the 1998 Higher Education 
Act this session, including making the student-aid provision apply only to 
current students or those convicted of a felony.

The Senate has no bill of its own but is likely to consider whatever the 
House passes, a spokeswoman on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and 
Pensions Committee said.

"The issue remains the same: Students who receive federal subsidization of 
their education have an obligation to follow federal law," Souder said. "I 
doubt many members of Congress would find that to be a controversial idea."

Howard Simon, a spokesman for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said 
Souder's law has merit. "Something that gives parents one more reason to 
say, 'don't use drugs,' and gives kids one more reason not to use drugs is 
a good thing," Simon said.
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