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Gov. Mary Fallin held a ceremonial signing of SB 137 recently and was joined by the bill’s author, Sen. Corey Brooks (R-Washington), as well as Dillon, Dustin and Dana Stanley, Melanie Wilkins and Kermit R. McMurry, Ph.D. Vice Chancellor of Student Services Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education.

A Duncan couple whose son was denied access to the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program because they received social security disability payments prompted a new law that could allow more students to attend college.

The program provides awards equivalent to all or part of college tuition expenses for students who complete the program’s requirements while in high school. There are currently more than 18,000 students in Oklahoma receiving the OHLAP scholarship.

Senate Bill 137 allows the State Regents to review cases in which a family’s income includes non-taxable military benefits or federal Social Security payments because of the death or disability of a parent.

The issue was brought to light by Dennis and Dana Stanley, whose oldest son, Dillon, was denied access to the program in 2011 because of Dennis’ social security disability payments.

Dennis was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005, which left him unable to take care of himself.

Because of treatments for the brain tumor, including surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, he’s in a nursing home and requires care around the clock.

Dennis’ social security disability payments put the family over the the $50,000 annual family income eligibility level when Dillon applied for the OHLAP scholarship.

Dennis and Dana’s youngest son, Dustin, who will graduate from high school in 2018, will apply for the scholarship this fall.

“We are extremely excited that Senate Bill 137 was approved and signed into law this year. We’re very thankful for Senator Brook’s dedication and hard work in addressing this oversight and for Governor Fallin signing the bill,” Dana said. “This will help our family tremendously and I know that there are many other families that will benefit from this as well. It’s an incredible gift and we are beyond grateful.”

Prior to the passage of SB 137, a student’s family income, both taxable and nontaxable, could not exceed $50,000 per year. The bill, authored by Sen. Corey Brooks, R-Washington, allows the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to review cases involving special financial situations, such as nontaxable military and Social Security payments. If the family’s income is less than $50,000, excluding those benefits, the student will be eligible for the OHLAP program.

“This program was created to ensure that all Oklahoma students who are serious about pursuing higher education get that opportunity if they meet certain financial and academic requirements.

Unfortunately, their oldest wasn’t able to qualify and has had to go well above and beyond the effort common to the vast majority of students in order to pay for his college education, but because of his parents’ determination, his brother can apply for the scholarship,” Brooks said. “I’m pleased that the legislature took swift action in passing this legislation and grateful for Governor Fallin’s support as well, so that we could fulfill the state’s promise to help more Oklahoma students get their education and pursue their dreams.”

 

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