Jeff Helps Oregon Students with Disabilities Qualify for Federal Student Aid

Before Jeff Merkley’s office got involved, students in Oregon who were diagnosed with a learning disability and earned a modified diploma from high school were unable to apply for federal student aid to help them attend community college, a four-year university or a trade or apprenticeship program. The U.S. Department of Education did not recognize the modified diploma as a valid high school diploma equivalent, and as such, the individuals could not apply for federal student aid.

In Oregon that meant that over 1,700 recent high-school graduates were prevented this way from applying for financial assistance. Monica Dizick, concerned parent of Sara, a high school senior with a learning disability, contacted the office of Jeff Merkley to bring this issue to his attention.

Over the next seven months, his office worked with the Oregon State Legislature, specifically State Representative Sara Gelser, as well as Governor Kitzhaber, and dozens of interested individuals, to garner letters of support in favor of allowing these modified diplomas to meet federal standards and allow students to pursue higher education.

In early April 2014, Representative Gelser and Jeff’s staff met with the US Department of Education and learned that the Oregon State Board of Education could make minor tweaks that would allow the federal government to officially recognize these diplomas. State Representative Gelser then worked with the Governor and the State Board of Education on making the necessary changes that would allow the modified diploma to be accepted. The US Department of Education now officially recognizes the modified diploma as a valid high school diploma, and allows all students who have earned or will earn a modified diploma to apply for federal student aid.

This is a huge win for students in Oregon with learning disabilities who now have the opportunity to receive federal student aid to further their education. Jeff strongly believes that no students should be excluded from following their dreams and furthering their education.