Pubdate: Wed, 02 Feb 2005
Source: Lantern, The (OH Edu)
Copyright: 2005 The Lantern
Author: Tom Angell


The Lantern is to be commended for advocating changes to the law that
bars students with drug convictions from receiving federal financial
aid (Jan. 31 "A new drug battle").

While I agree with The Lantern that change is needed to "more fairly
distribute federal aid to students that need it the most," I'm
concerned that the paper's proposal would not address the fundamental
flaws inherent in the current law, and could actually place an undue
burden on taxpayers.

Plainly, Congress should not put roadblocks in students' paths to
education, regardless of whether they've been in trouble with drugs or
not.  But a question about drug convictions on the financial aid form
does just this. Each year, countless eligible students with past
convictions refrain from applying for aid because they think
truthfully answering the embarrassing question would be a pointless
exercise (and mailing the application would be a waste of postage).
Actually, many of these students are eligible for aid, but they'd
still be deterred from applying under The Lantern's plan.

The Lantern also says that under its proposal, "Taxpayers could rest
assured that their money is being used to support students who truly
want an education and have shown they are willing to work for one."
But this plan would create an enormous bureaucracy that could end up
costing taxpayers more money than reinstating aid to all victims of
the ban would. Before the Higher Education Act Drug Provision was
written into law, judges, who do in fact hear each case in all of its
detail, wielded the power to withhold financial aid from those
convicted. In addition, the courts allowed for those convicted to
appeal their punishment, something not granted under the current drug
provision, nor under The Lantern's proposed alterations.

The Lantern has, in effect, endorsed a bureaucratized form of the same
"Judge's Discretion" that existed before the Higher Education Act Drug
Provision was even in effect. Imagine how many full-time employees the
government would have to be hire to individually analyze the cases of
all 35,000 students who answer 'yes' to the drug question each year.

Congress should simply remove the drug question from the FAFSA and
stop playing politics with education.

Tom Angell

Students for Sensible Drug Policy 
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