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Archive for Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Students protest drug-use penalty

Federal law prohibits giving financial aid to applicants with prior record

August 20, 2002

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Members of a new group at Kansas University called KU Students for Sensible Drug Policy are working to have the federal Higher Education Act's drug provision repealed.

The Higher Education Act, passed by Congress in 1965, provides federal financial aid programs for students. The drug provision, added in 1998, denies federal aid to students who have been convicted of drug offenses involving the possession or sale of a controlled substance.

Wichita junior Chase Cookson, president of the KU group, said the policy discriminates against working-class Americans by punishing those who need financial assistance.

"I have prior drug convictions and don't need financial aid, so I can go to school," he said. "There are a lot of people out there that aren't as fortunate, who don't have the financial resources to get a higher education."

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, this year more than 40,000 students nationwide answered yes when asked whether they'd been convicted of a drug crime.

But Chris Johnson, associate director of the KU Office of Student Financial Aid, said the policy didn't affect many KU students.

"Out of more than 15,000 applications processed this year (at KU), only seven people answered yes when asked the question," he said.

Still, Johnson admits the policy can be unfair.

"If a person has problems in their life, and they can turn it around through education, then we should not keep them from it," he said.

KU Students for Sensible Drug Policy has about 15 members, who are collecting signatures from students and residents who oppose the federal act's drug provision. They hope to collect about 10,000 signatures and plan to submit the petition to state representatives in the spring.

"We just want to inform the public of the negative impact that this policy will have on their children's futures," Cookson said.

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