February 2007

Dear Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned, join our voices as organizations representing millions of Americans concerned with opportunities for education, recovery from addiction, faith, civil rights, and law, to call on Congress to remove a harmful roadblock to higher education. We refer to the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty (20 U.S.C. 1091 (r)), which has stripped college financial aid from nearly 200,000 aspiring students with drug convictions since taking effect in 2000. While the penalty is intended to reduce drug abuse, it actually fosters the opposite effect by blocking access to education to Americans committed to getting their lives back on track.

Please co-sponsor the soon-to-be-introduced Removing Impediments to Students’ Education (RISE) Act, sponsored by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). The bill would reinstate aid to aspiring students by removing the confusing drug conviction question from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, as recommended by Congress’s own Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. The committee called the question “irrelevant” to determining eligibility and stated that it “add[s] complexity to the form and can deter some students from applying for financial aid” — even some who are actually eligible but assume the question implies they are not.

Education has enormous benefits – for individuals and for society. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, college graduates contribute more than twice as much to the federal income tax pool than those with only high school diplomas. Numerous studies have concluded that persons who obtain college degrees are far less likely to break the law and become costly drains on the criminal justice system or to rely on programs like food stamps or public housing . Denying aid to otherwise qualified applicants costs taxpayers more in the long run through lost tax revenue and increased spending on law enforcement and social programs.

Federal college aid programs require students to make satisfactory academic progress to maintain eligibility. Therefore, the penalty only punishes hardworking students who are doing well in their classes and who are likely to be good investments in our nation’s economic future, regardless of their past mistakes. Also troubling is that the penalty affects only persons on the lower end of the economic spectrum who rely on financial aid. Finally, because of unresolved racial disparities in drug law enforcement, the penalty has a disproportionate impact on people of color.

Though a partial reform enacted last year limits the penalty’s impact to a smaller number of people, tens of thousands of would-be students continue to suffer its ill effects, all of whom have already been punished for their offenses through the criminal justice system. Substance abuse professionals consider positive steps like education – continuing and completing it – to be a crucial opportunity for persons seeking to overcome or avoid substance abuse, but the penalty eliminates that option for thousands every year.

For these and other reasons, more than 300 organizations across the country have called for the full repeal of the aid elimination penalty. America’s chance to reopen doors of opportunity to tens of thousands of bright and eager would-be students is now. We respectfully urge you to co-sponsor the RISE Act.

Sincerely,

*** NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS ***
American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry
American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine
American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers
American Association of Community Colleges
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Association of University Professors
American Association of University Women
American Civil Liberties Union
American College Health Association
American Council on Education
American Federation of Teachers
American Friends Service Committee
American Humanist Association
American Probation and Parole Association
American Student Association of Community Colleges
Association of American Medical Colleges
Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
Association of Recovery Schools
BACCHUS Network
Brennan Center for Justice
Building Better Lives for Our Communities and Kids (Building BLOCK)
Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice
Citizens’ Commission on Civil Rights
Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants
Coalition of Essential Schools
College Board
College Parents of America
ColorOfChange.org
Common Sense for Drug Policy
Correctional Education Association
Council for Opportunity in Education
Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Educators for Sensible Drug Policy
Faces & Voices of Recovery
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Family and Corrections Network
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative
International Community Corrections Association
Johnson Institute
Justice Policy Institute
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
League of United Latin American Citizens
Legal Action Center
Marijuana Policy Project
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals
NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
National Alliance of Methadone Advocates
National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth
National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Association of Graduate-Professional Students
National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities
National Association of Social Workers
National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs
National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
National Black Police Association
National College Access Network
National Consortium of TASC Programs
National Council of La Raza
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD)
National Education Association
National HIRE Network
National Inhalant Prevention Coalition
National Lawyers Guild
National Lawyers Guild Drug Policy Committee
National Network for Youth
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
National Organization for Women
National Organization of Concerned Black Men, Inc.
National Urban League
National Women’s Health Network
National Youth Advocacy Coalition
National Youth Rights Association
November Coalition Foundation
Parents Ending Prohibition
People For the American Way
Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy
Presbyterian Church (USA), Washington Office
Prison Legal News
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisons Foundation
Progressive Jewish Alliance
Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation
Students for Sensible Drug Policy
The Sentencing Project
Therapuetic Communities of America
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society
United States Student Association
Voices for America’s Children
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)
Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform

*** REGIONAL, STATE, AND LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS ***
AdvoCare (MD and VA)
African American Family Services (MN)
Alcoholism Council of New York
Alcoholism Council of the Cincinnati Area, NCADD (OH)
Alliance for Reform of Drug Policy in Arkansas
Books Not Bars (CA)
Burke Council on Alcoholism & Chemical Dependency, Inc. (NC)
Californians for Justice
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (IL)
Chicago Jobs Council (IL)
Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers (IL)
Church Council of Greater Seattle (WA)
Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition
Columbia Alliance for Patients and Education (MO)
Council on Addictions of New York State
Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Santa Barbara (CA)
County Alcohol & Drug Program Administrators Association of California
Delaware Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers
Delaware Chapter: National Alliance of Methadone Advocates
Delaware Coalition for Human Rights
Drug Policy Education Group (AR)
Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii
Drug Policy Forum of Kansas
Drug Policy Forum of Texas
Efficacy (CT)
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights (IL)
Justice Matters (CA)
King County Bar Association (WA)
King County Medical Society (WA)
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (CA)
LifeGuard (IL and IA)
Loren Miller Bar Association (WA)
Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (OH)
Maine Civil Liberties Union
Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
Massachusetts State College Association
Minneapolis Urban League (MN)
Minnesota Affiliate of the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence, Inc.
Municipal League of King County (WA)
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence – New Jersey
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of the San Fernando Valley (CA)
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Sacramento Region Affiliate (CA)
National Council on Alcoholism/Lansing Regional Area (MI)
New York Civil Liberties Union of Nassau County
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition
Ohio Council of Behavioral Healthcare Providers
Ohio Patient Network
Oregon Literacy, Inc.
Perspectives, Inc. (MN)
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PA)
ReconsiDer (NY)
Rhode Island Family Life Center
Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition
Safer Foundation (IL and IA)
Seattle League of Women Voters (WA)
Sensible Colorado
Sensible Drug Policy Maryland
South Asian Youth Action (NY)
Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery Alliance of Virginia
Washington Academy of Family Physicians
Washington Osteopathic Medical Association
Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility
Washington Society of Addiction Medicine
Washington State Association of Alcoholism and Addiction Programs
Washington State Bar Association
Washington State Medical Association
Washington State Pharmacy Association
Washington State Psychiatric Association
Washington State Psychological Association
Washington State Public Health Association
Youth Transformation Center (CO)