Drug Law Blocks Path To College Aid

Drug Law Blocks Path To College Aid
Posted by CN Staff on May 06, 2005 at 14:48:25 PT
By Chris Falcone 
Source: Chronicle
New York -- They say the mind is a terrible thing to waste, yet 165,000 students to date have not been given the opportunity to put theirs to use.While over 200 religious, civil rights, rehabilitation and criminal justice organizations and 120 Student Government Associations (SGA) across the nation are fighting to protect students rights to financial aid, the University has remained neutral.
Over 30 years ago President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law a provision of the Higher Education Act to open the door to a college education for students who had been denied these opportunities in the past. However, a new provision put into effect in 2000 has reversed Johnson's provision, denying students who have been convicted of a drug offense the ability to receive financial aid. Students at other universities are working in conjunction with the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform (CHEAR) and every major education association."The movement is larger and louder than ever before," Chris Mulligan, campaign director for the Coalition for Higher Education Act Reform, said. The bill, which was introduced in 1998 by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN), prohibited the chance of mostly low to middle class students, a disproportionate amount minority, of an opportunity to a college education."Souder claims the bill saves tax money and punishes drug offenders by not allowing them to use financial aid to buy drugs," Mulligan said. "But we've learned that the policy doesn't work. It is discriminatory and fundamentally flawed." He also said the new provision will cost tax-payers more in the long run. Under the law, students convicted of possession of a controlled substance are denied financial aid eligibility for one year after a first offense, two years for a second offense and permanently after a third offense. Students convicted of selling a controlled substance lose eligibility for two years for a first offense and permanently after a second offense, according to Mulligan. "The Department of Education is not the Drug Enforcement Agency," said Jesselyn McCurdy, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "Otherwise qualified students are being punished twice. These are students that have already faced the criminal consequences of their actions."With many colleges and universities calling on Congress to repeal the drug provision, Mulligan praises the work of these students for fighting against an obvious injustice, but knows more work needs to be done."Students agree holding education funding hostage is pretty unfair and it's pretty easy to get a SGA to agree with and support that," Mulligan said. "But absolutely the movement has to be larger than just students to get rid of this law." Marcella Martinez, a junior at SUNY New Paltz, does not agree with the law. Being forced to fund her education mainly through federal financial aid loans she realizes how severe such consequences could be. Without her federal loans she would not be able to go to college. It is just a way to keep a class system, she said."The people who can't afford college are people in poverty," Martinez, who admitted using marijuana in the past, she said. "They are the people they're going to be taking money away from. The people who don't need aid are still going to go." Schools ranging from Florida State University and Georgetown University, to Dartmouth College and the University of Connecticut, have all joined in the movement. The U.S. Student Association and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are two groups that have been fighting this law before it was even passed. Local colleges such as SUNY Albany, SUNY Binghamton and Syracuse University are involved in the campaign. However, the University is absent from such a long and diverse academic list of colleges. Newly elected SGA president Benjamin Solis, who was unaware that such a law existed, said it unduly penalizes too many students and considers it "absolutely crazy." Although he understands the intentions of legislators who created the law, he said it is over the top. "A first offense to block financial aid for a year and can affect whether or not you go to college, which is ridiculous," Solis said.Solis also promised to look into the matter and bring it before the senate. He said if students are willing to fight for the issue then he would be interested in getting involved in the nationwide campaign."I would definitely look into this," he said. "If it's an issue for the students on this campus then I'm going to see that everything can and will be done." The growing movement against the law has caused Souder to soften his stance, but ultimately, Mulligan said, he is only willing to revise the bill not repeal it, which just is not good enough. On March 9, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) along with 56 co-sponsors from Congress introduced the Removing Impediments to Students' Education Act (RISE). The goal of the act is repealing the drug law of the HEA, which has already denied 165,000 students financial aid, excluding individuals who didn't seek financial aid for fear of prior drug-related records. Frank, who has been fighting for the act since the drug law took effect said it is extremely discriminatory against the people who need financial aid the most. Furthermore, he said students who have drug convictions, but come from wealthier families, are not affected by this law."I don't condone illegal drug use," Frank said. "But preventing students with minor convictions from being able to pursue an education is counterproductive and excessive." Marisa Garcia, a junior at California State University at Fullerton has become an example of the law's misguided power. After being caught with a marijuana pipe she was nearly forced to drop out of school since her family could not afford her tuition costs without federal aid. "I had a support structure to help me get through this; many others are not so fortunate," Garcia said. The RISE Act is stuck in the education committee of the House of Representatives. They are hoping to have a version of the RISE Act introduced in the Senate in the next few weeks, Mulligan said.In October, President George W. Bush also addressed the issue during his while campaign for a second term. In response to whether the provision should be repealed Bush said: "My 2005 budget proposes to fix the drug provision of the HEA so that incoming students who have a prior drug-related conviction would be able to receive federal student aid, and only students convicted while in college would lose their eligibility for student aid." University alumnus, Kevin Castandea, also said the provision should be repealed. "Is it fair that two of our previous presidents have used illegal drugs and didn't pay a price for it," Castandea said. "These are the individuals we, especially as young people, are suppose to look at as role models. What if they didn't have an opportunity to go to college, where would they be today?"A study by the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, an independent body created by Congress to examine higher education and student aid policy, found the provision to be a deterrent to students applying for aid. The committee recommended its removal."By closing the doors of higher education to those most in need, Congress has only made a bad situation worse," McCurdy said. Source: Chronicle, The (US NY Edu)Author: Chris Falcone Published: May 5, 2005Copyright: 2005 The ChronicleContact: editorial hofstrachronicle.comWebsite: http://www.hofstrachronicle.comSSDP Justice Archives
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #1 posted by global_warming on May 06, 2005 at 16:20:07 PT
Lies and Living In Denial
"Is it fair that two of our previous presidents have used illegal drugs and didn't pay a price for it," Castandea said. "These are the individuals we, especially as young people, are suppose to look at as role models. What if they didn't have an opportunity to go to college, where would they be today?"I can see, someday, the Souders and his spiritually crippled minions, will be hunted down, like the nazi perpetrators have been, and the world, will examine the DNA of these offsprings, and they will be confined into prisons, and best kept away from functional citizens of this planet.Mat 18:23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take an account of his servants. Mat 18:24 And when he had begun to take the account, one as brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. Mat 18:25 And as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. Mat 18:26 But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Mat 18:27 And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt. 
Mat 18:28 But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow-servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest. Mat 18:29 And his fellow-servant falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Mat 18:30 And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt. Mat 18:31 Now his fellow servants seeing what was done, were very much grieved, and they came, and told their lord all that was done. Mat 18:32 Then his lord called him: and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Mat 18:33 Shouldst not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? Mat 18:34 And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. Mat 18:35 So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts. End the war on people, free the
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment