Stoners Need Not Apply

Bush’s Education Secretary is aiming to take the high out of higher education — by cutting off financial aid to convicted drug users.

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Tens of thousands of American students may be denied federal financial assistance this year, as the Bush administration steps up enforcement of a 1998 law barring aid to applicants with past drug convictions (see our story Smoke a Joint, Lose Your Loan).

Last year only 8,620 students were denied assistance after admitting to a drug conviction on their aid applications. Another 300,000 left the “drug question” unanswered, but had their forms processed anyway. This year, however, the Education Department has announced that failing to answer the question will result in a rejected application. So far, with nearly 4 million applications processed out of an expected total of 10 million, almost 15,000 students have left the question unanswered, and some 27,000 have admitted to a drug offense.

“We’re talking at least 90,000 students who could be affected by this when it’s all said and done,” says Shawn Heller of Students for Responsible Drug Policy, which has helped convince more than 50 student governments to pass resolutions against the law. Organizations including the NAACP, the ACLU and the National Organization for Women have also come out against the statute, and Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank has introduced a bill to repeal it.

None of that seems to have impressed Education Secretary Rod Paige, who decided this spring to begin stringently enforcing the law, according to Education Department spokesperson Lindsey Kozberg. “Congress passed legislation and our department is obliged to carry out that legislative direction,” she told reporters on April 17.

Admitting to a drug conviction does not automatically disqualify someone from receiving aid — depending on the severity of the conviction, students may still be eligible to receive partial funding. Still, for lower-income students even a partial aid loss can make higher education unaffordable. “As a society, we should be asking ourselves if what we really want is a hundred thousand fewer kids in college,” says Chris Evans, campus coordinator with the Drug Reform Coordination Network.

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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