Scholarship set up to aid students denied funds

Posted 4:16 p.m. April 1

by Marcus Mrowka

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – A scholarship for students denied financial aid due to drug convictions was inaugurated in New York City last week.

The foundation of the John W. Perry Fund is one of the first scholarships set up to offer assistance to students that are denied federal aid due to the 1998 amendment to the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 that bars students from aid after being convicted of illegal drug use or sale.

The John W. Perry Fund, the first national fund established to aid ineligible students, will award scholarships of up to $2,000 to those affected by the HEA provision. The scholarships are based on greatest financial need.

Current figures indicate that at least 46,000 would-be-students have lost some or all of their aid during the 2000-2001 school year.

The HEA of 1965 was created to offer every student the opportunity to pursue a college-level degree.The act established federal financial aid programs including Perkins Loans, Pell Grants, PLUS Loans and Work-Study programs.

The act was amended in 1998 with a new provision sponsored by Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) to limit financial aid to students with convicted drug charges.

According to the provision, students caught with possession of a controlled substance are ineligible for federal aid for one year after their first offense, two years after their second and indefinitely after their third. Students arrested for selling a controlled substance are ineligible for aid for two years after the first offense and indefinitely after the second.

A student may regain their eligibility after completing a rehabilitation program but the law provides no funds for such treatment.

Campus governments and organizations all around the country including George Washington University, Northwestern University, American University, and Yale University among others have endorsed a resolution calling for repeal of the 1998 provision.

Hampshire College in Massachusetts created a loan for any student there denied federal aid because of a drug record three years ago through a campus-wide vote. Hampshire President Gregory Prince calls the ban “part of a larger pattern of the discriminatory impact, intended or not intended, that the drug policy has had on different communities, particularly minority communities.”

Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania voted last month to make up the difference if any of its students become ineligible for federal aid because of a drug conviction.

Even Souder, the author of the 1998 provision, has said that the bill has been misinterpreted. He says that he meant to bar aid from those students already getting federal aid when convicted.

Perry was a New York City police officer and an activist who spoke out against the “war on drugs”. He was killed during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 after rushing into the first tower moments after the first plane struck. The fund was named after him as a tribute to honor his life-long commitment against America’s “unfair drug policies”.

“To punish students who are financially unable to go to college without [Federal] assistance is a travesty,” said his mother Patricia Perry. “John would very definitely be in favor of students like that.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) recently introduced a bill to repeal the HEA drug provision. The bill currently has 57 co-sponsors, one Republican and 56 Democrats. A similar bill was introduced by Rep Bobby Scott (D-VA) in 2001 but the amendment failed by 15 votes in a 31-16 committee decision.

There is no word on if and when the bill to repeal the provision will reach the House floor.

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