Lawmakers want to give drug-convicted students access to help
If you are found guilty of burglary, you can still get federal financial aid for college. But the current rules make it nearly impossible for tens of thousands of students accused of even minor drug offenses to get the same help.
It is because the Free application for federal student aid, what was released Tuesday for the 2020-2021 school year, includes a question: Have you been convicted of possession or sale of illegal drugs for an offense committed while receiving federal student assistance (such as scholarships, work-study or ready)?
If students answer “yes,” their eligibility for assistance will be limited until they complete a drug addiction program or pass two random drug tests. During the 2003-2004 school year, approximately 41,000 students, or approximately 0.03% of those who completed the FAFSA application, were found ineligible for aid on the basis of drug offenses, according to perhaps the most complete report on the subject published by the Government Accountability Office in 2005.
“As we rethink the war on drugs and the accompanying prison sentences and sentences, we must address all aspects that have impacted our communities,” Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif. ) in a press release. “Investing in a person’s education is perhaps the best investment we can make in ensuring the success of our young people. “
This is why the MP, with more than 30 co-sponsors, presents the Student Financial Aid Equity Act Tuesday, which would bar the Department of Education from asking questions about drug convictions in future requests for federal aid, including the FAFSA.
The legislation would repeal sections of the Higher Education Act that suspends university aid for anyone convicted of a drug offense, an obstacle which Bass says has “denied tens of thousands of people help needed for college and has discouraged tens of thousands of others from even applying. “
“This bill tackles another unnecessary barrier for people trying to access higher education,” Bass said. CNBC do it. “Higher education is not accessible at the moment. How do you want people to change their lives if you don’t give them tools – not only don’t give them tools, but give them access to tools – to do it? “
Under the current rules, if a student is found guilty of drug possession, he or she risks one year of ineligibility from their first conviction. A second conviction earns them two years of ineligibility, while a third offense will indefinitely suspend their eligibility for financial aid.
In the 2016-2017 school year, more than 1,000 students were found to be totally ineligible because they had a drug-related conviction or did not answer the question correctly, according to Insider Higher Ed analysis data from the Ministry of Education. The education ministry estimated that another 250 students were partially suspended from all aid.
“This policy unfairly targets poor and minority students and costs society more in terms of crime and lost economic productivity,” said Representative Danny Davis (D-Ill.), Co-sponsor of the FAFSA Act, regarding the current FAFSA drug issue. convictions.
Graham Boyd, Director of ACLU Drug Law Reform Project also called the policy “discriminatory”. While the FAFSA does not collect data on the race of students and therefore researchers are unable to conclusively say how minority groups are affected, African Americans and Latinos are being arrested and convicted of crimes related to the race. drug at higher rates than white Americans.
“If a student is convicted of a drug offense and her family can afford to pay for her education, she will not be affected by the legislation, while those who are already at risk of being forced into the margins of the society will be even poorer, ”he added. Boyd said.
And advocates say that in addition to presenting an incomplete picture of how politics affects minorities, Education Department data doesn’t capture the number of students who haven’t even asked for help because that they feared they would be ineligible. Indeed, last year, 38 advocacy groups met and sent joint letters urging the leaders of the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions and US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to eliminate the issue of the FAFSA drug conviction.
Letters noted that the Center for Community Alternatives found in a 2015 report that nearly two in three undergraduate applicants at State University of New York who disclosed a felony conviction never completed their application.
This is not the first time that lawmakers have pushed to offer drug-convicted students increased access to federal financial aid. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) Reintroduced the Second Chance for Students Act in July, which would give students convicted of marijuana possession a break before losing their financial aid.
“Education promotes economic well-being and participation in the workforce,” says Davis. “Excluding people who have struggled with drug addiction from financial aid is an ineffective policy that has harmed tens of thousands of students. “
Do you like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!