Thursday, September 11, 2014

It’s Time for Pell Grant Justice

This Just Policy Blog re-post was originally featured on the website of the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings.

Picture this. Rodney, an 18-year-old who was adjudicated delinquent in the spring, is being held in a secure care facility where he will likely stay for another three to six months while
he completes his rehabilitative program.
 He just passed the new GED and hopes to start taking online courses from his local community college. His facility just implemented a new policy that enables him to have secure Internet access. Rodney is interested in technology and wants to take Introduction to Coding along with English 101. His initial plans are to get an associate’s degree and accumulate a number of programming badges.*
There’s one big problem: he can’t afford the tuition, and both the counselor at his school and the financial aid officer at the community college are telling him he doesn’t qualify for a Pell Grant. It is their understanding that under federal law, criminals who are serving sentences don’t qualify for Pell Grants. No one seems to listen to Rodney when he keeps saying, “I’m not a criminal. I made a big mistake, and I want to get back into school now so I don’t fall further behind.”
So, instead of taking those two post-secondary courses, Rodney is slated to spend his days working on the facility’s grounds and sitting in high school classes that he doesn’t need to graduate, that don’t offer him any credits, and that aren’t in the field he is interested in. When he gets released later this year, mid-semester, he will be jobless and not enrolled in a postsecondary program. He will have to keep himself busy while starting the college application and financial aid process all over again. The odds are that a young man like Rodney won’t take those steps on his own, and that his education will end with his GED.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Rodney isn’t a criminal; under his state’s law, he is adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile. In fact, he is eligible for Pell Grants. But because the US Department of Education has failed to clarify that juveniles who have been adjudicated delinquent under state law are eligible for Pell Grants, Rodney is stuck doing yard work and taking high school classes he has already passed. This isn’t just. Nor is it smart policy.
The solution does not require any law to be changed. All it requires is for the US Department of Education to issue a clarifying statement. And that is what we are asking for.
Please join our Twitter campaign calling for #PellGrantJustice. Send a tweet to Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan (@arneduncan) and Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton (@JIMSEDU) asking them to issue a formal statement clarifying that juveniles held in secure facilities who have been adjudicated delinquent under state law are eligible for Pell Grants.
*Rodney is a fictional character. He is meant to represent the hundreds of adjudicated youth around the country who against great odds have earned their high school diploma or GED while incarcerated but who don’t have meaningful post-secondary options available to them.

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