Courts Education War on Drugs

The Drug War’s War on Students


In 2001 Education Week told this story about the Bush Administration’s decision
to be hard core in its enforcement of one part of the Higher Education Act.

When police found a small amount of marijuana residue
in her car the day before her 19th birthday, Marisa Garcia was handed a ticket and sent on her way. After she was convicted of drug possession and paid a $415 fine, Ms. Garcia thought the incident could be put behind her.

But the California State University-Fullerton
student later discovered that her minor scrape with the law had cost her much more: Ms. Garcia ended up losing her eligibility for federal student financial aid because of a change three years ago in the Higher Education Act.

“It was the first time I had ever been in trouble with the law,”
said Ms. Garcia, who worked extra hours in a flower shop and turned to her family to help pay her tuition and expenses. “When I found out that if I was a murderer or child molester I would still be eligible, I really got mad.”

Hard to blame her. With cases like Garcia’s in mind, college students,
financial-aid associations, and civil rights groups have been working since then to challenge or overturn the provision—with no luck. (335 organizations from American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers to the United Church of Christ favor overturning it.)

According to Ed Week, even Republican Congressman Mark Souder,
the guy who introduced the 1998 legislation, has indicated that the law was never intended to “reach back” and affect students with past drug convictions. It was meant, said Souder’s office, to derail applications if kids were convicted of drug crimes while they were applying for aid. (An explanation that has its own illogic, but whatever.)

Yesterday one of the constitutional challenges to the law finally had its day in court
, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected it. A new Ed Week blog post has the details (and here’s the ruling itself).

Constitutionality aside, why in the world would we want to punish a kid
for some past transgression—particularly a kid who is trying to go to college?

Remember that the average high school graduation rate in America’s largest cities is at 50 percent
, with cities like Baltimore, Cleveland and Detroit graduating even fewer. It would seem that if a kid does graduate and wants to go to college, we should be moving heaven and earth to help.

But instead we’ve got this idiotic provision that since 2001 has reportedly denied aid to approximately 200,000 students.

These are the days when I start to think some of our lawmakers
really don’t like our nation’s children very well.

PS: And how has the media covered the story?
Other than Ed Week and the wonkiest law blogs—I’ve found nothing. (Obviously, there are more important topics to explore.)


  • The only thing dumber than selective laws for schools are the absolutely stupid decisions that teachers and principals make, such as when they suspend students for “zero tolerance” rules that result in kids being suspended for such things as a pencil drawing of a gun. A local girl was suspended because her Tweety Bird key chain was considered a weapon. Such things happen almost every day. Maybe the lawmakers were afraid that people with weed might burn other students with their cigarettes. It makes as much sense as most other things that they conceive.

    Oh, how I wish that we got away from government schools and had a voucher system so that parents could send their kids somewhere sane where they could get a good education.

    “These are the days when I start to think some of our lawmakers really don’t like our nation’s children very well.”
    But, but…I thought that politicians did everything “for the children.”

  • It seems like part of the story is missing —

    “The court noted that, under the law, a student may restore his or her eligibility for federal student aid by completing a drug-rehabilitation program.”

    So all Ms. Garcia had to do was to complete a drug-rehab course to get her benefits.

    Pokey does not believe that this is an OVERLY high standard for a college student that is receiving our (government) money.

  • Pokey, that’s why the court found that it wasn’t double jeopardy, which is correct. But it doesn’t relieve problem. Even the drug rehab provision is unclear as to what is required and discourages kids—particularly kids at risk.

    That’s why so many folks are against it.

  • There is something called a subsidized or unsubsidized loans for students.
    You didn’t see me cry when they told me that I had to take out a unsubidized loan. No one gets anything free in this world. I paid off my 30,000 loan like any other professional.
    I started with nothing.

  • She is 26 now – so she needs to grow up and take it like an adult. Living in Santa Fe Springs is not consider being poor either.

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