Education A Washington Roundup

Ed. Dept. Is Sued Over Data on Student-Loan Applicants

By Andrew Trotter — January 31, 2006 1 min read

An organization that advocates an end to the nation’s “war on drugs” sued the Department of Education last week for charging $4,100 for data on the answers given by federal college-loan applicants to a question about convictions for drug-related crimes.

The Higher Education Act bars loans to applicants with a drug conviction, although a provision in a spending bill awaiting final passage in Congress would limit that restriction to applicants convicted of drug offenses while they attended college on a federal loan.

In 2004, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a nonprofit group in Washington, asked for the data going back to 2000 and broken down by state, under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The group claimed an exemption from the processing fee under a provision of FOIA covering the disclosure of information that contributes significantly to public understanding of government operations and that is not primarily in the requestor’s commercial interest.

In a Sept. 20 letter to SSDP, Michell C. Clark, the Education Department’s chief information officer, said the group had not shown that there was a public interest in the information, and that he couldn’t rule out that SSDP’s campaign “could directly benefit those who would profit from the deregulation or legalization of drugs.”

An Education Department spokeswoman said last week that it had not yet been served with the suit, filed Jan. 26 in U.S. District Court in Washington, and could not comment on it.