Spooked into near-hysteria by “drug warriors,” Congress enacted a law six years ago denying federal aid for college to anyone with a drug conviction on his or her record, even if the person meets all the other requirements for assistance, including a respectable grade-point average. Murderers and rapists are not denied federal aid to attend college; anyone who’s had a youthful misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana is.
It’s an unusually stupid law, and U.S. Rep. Vic Snyder has been trying to get it changed for several years. This session, he is again co-sponsoring a bill that would end the penalty. Not only is it unfairly applied to drug offenders only, Snyder says, but it keeps potential college students from becoming productive citizens. (And increases the chances that they’ll become criminals or professional welfare recipients instead.)
This is the sort of thing his Second District constituents have come to expect of Snyder — opposition to injustice, compassion for the underprivileged — and they value him for it, too much so to be distracted by the irrelevancies his opponents have historically tried to use against him. One of this year’s would-be congressmen has accused Snyder of being born outside Arkansas. It happens to be true — though Snyder has lived and worked in Arkansas for many years — but it’s weak material to build a campaign on.
Another organization has been formed to protect rural school districts in Arkansas. What’s needed is an organization to protect rural schoolchildren.
Ron Crawford, a businessman, is the spokesman for the Rural Education Preservation Alliance, apparently an outgrowth of an earlier group that was trying to keep tiny Paron High School in Saline County from having to comply with recently enacted education reforms requiring higher standards in the public schools. Thus far, efforts to exempt Paron High from the law have been unsuccessful. Should Paron succeed, small schools all over the state would want the same exemption, of course — a damaging blow to the long-delayed improvement of Arkansas schools.
Crawford says he isn’t politically motivated, but suspicion remains. The sponsor of a bill to save Paron — defeated in the recent special legislative session — was Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, who happens to be the nephew of Asa Hutchinson, the Republican candidate for governor. And Asa sounds as though he finds the political pickings at Paron pretty promising. Paron is just “the tip of the iceberg,” Asa says; “You can’t have a one-size-fits-all approach.” Hutchinson’s opponent, Attorney General Mike Beebe, a Democrat, supports the education reform movement and opposed the Paron bill. Crawford criticized Beebe, but made no mention of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee or his state Education Department. Their positions on Paron are the same as Beebe’s. Was this an oversight?