HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Feds To Release Student Drug Use Data
Pubdate: Tue, 04 Apr 2006
Source: UCSD Guardian, The (CA Edu)
Copyright: 2006 UCSD Guardian.
Author: Alexandra Aaron
Bookmark: (Higher Education Act)
Bookmark: (Youth)


WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Education has agreed to release 
a demographic breakdown of the 200,000 students denied federal aid 
due to drug convictions, settling a lawsuit filed last month by the 
advocacy group Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.

"This is a huge victory," said Tom Angell, SSDP's campaigns director. 
"We're very excited."

The settlement is the latest development in the group's campaign to 
rescind a law that prevents students with drug convictions from 
receiving federal aid.

Under a 1998 provision added to the Higher Education Act, students 
who have been convicted for the illegal sale or possession of drugs 
under state or federal law can be declared ineligible to receive 
student financial aid, according to the government's federal student 
aid Web site.

About a year ago, SSDP requested under the Freedom of Information Act 
that the Department of Education release a "state-by-state breakdown" 
of students denied aid, according to a statement by SSDP Executive 
Director Kris Krane.

The Department of Education initially asked SSDP to pay $4,000 for 
the information, but the federal agency agreed to waive the fee when 
the student group threatened to challenge it in court.

The Department of Education declined to comment on the settlement.

"The government thought they could intimidate us ... they had no 
other choice but to give [us the information]," Angell said.

But another lawsuit, which remains to be decided, challenges the 
constitutionality of the drug-conviction amendment to the Higher Education Act.

The provision, amended by Congress in January of this year, applies 
only to students who were convicted while receiving federal aid.

The undecided lawsuit, filed in February by SSDP and the American 
Civil Liberties Union, said that the drug provision "interferes with 
the objectives of drug treatment, drug prevention and criminal 
rehabilitation by denying a higher education -- and its attendant 
economic benefits -- to those convicted of drug offenses."

The lawsuit, which cites three examples of upstanding college 
students denied federal aid because of their drug convictions, 
declares the law to be unconstitutional for violating the 
Constitution's "double jeopardy" and "due process" clauses, and asks 
that the Department of Education cease denying federal aid to these 
students. Leaders of SSDP said that they plan to use the demographic 
information on student drug violators denied aid, which the 
government said it will release before the end of March, to argue for 
repealing the Higher Education Act's drug provision.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and 69 cosponsors recently introduced a 
bill in Congress that would rescind the drug provision.

"After we have received the information from the Department of 
Education, we're going to have to go to Congress to show them how 
much this law affects their own constituents," Angell said. "The 
government is on notice now that students won't allow them to cover [this] up."
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