Congresswoman Barbara Lee today voiced her support for legislation to repeal a provision in the 1998 Higher Education Act (HEA) that prohibits students convicted of any state or federal drug related offense from receiving federal financial aid for college.
According to Department of Education Statistics, 8,162 students were denied federal financial aid during the 2000-2001 school year because of the HEA provision on drug convictions.
“This unfair law is overwhelmingly targeted at preventing low- and middle-income students from attending college because they are denied access to Pell Grants, student loans, and other much-needed forms of assistance,” Lee said. “Wealthy students can afford to pay for college on their own, without the help of federal financial aid. It is the low-income families that depend on these federal funds for higher education.”
According to the Department of Justice, in 1997, the most recent year for which data is available, over 66,000 juveniles age 17 and younger were adjudicated on drug-related cases. Drug related cases are the only convictions that prevent students from receiving financial aid. No such automatic ban on federal financial aid exists for any other crime, including murder, rape, or other violent crimes.
“Education is the most critical weapon we have in the fight against poverty and crime,” Lee said. “We cannot allow youthful indiscretions to hold back individuals who want to better themselves by attending college. Under the HEA, low- and middle-income children who cannot afford to pay for college, are further disenfranchised by a limitation of options for education, and are therefore less likely to make a positive contribution to their community.”
The legislation was introduced by Representative Barney Frank, D-Mass., in the 106th Congress and has garnered support from more than 70 university student government associations, including the University of California Berkeley, and national education, student, drug policy reform, religious, women’s and civil rights groups.