Legislation passed by the Nebraska Unicameral in 2009 is opening the doors to higher education for low-income parents, according to a report released today by the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest entitled “Choosing Education.” The report indicates that 13.3% of Nebraska’s cash welfare caseload is currently engaged in education that could lead to an Associates Degree, thanks in part to a bill passed in 2009 that increases the opportunity to pursue higher education.
The legislation, introduced by Senator John Harms (Scottsbluff, LD 48), allows participants in Nebraska’s Aid to Dependent Children program to participate in an Associates Degree program for up to 36 months. Prior policy only allowed 12 months. “Education is the clearest pathway out of poverty,” explains Harms, “I’m pleased that over 500 low income parents now have the opportunity to increase their earning potential and build long term economic stability for their families.”
Currently, only 5% of participants in the Aid to Dependent Children program have education beyond high school. 86% have only a high school diploma. The rule change has made pursuing an Associates Degree more achievable. “It is important for us to be able to get assistance while in school – it really helps meet extra costs,” explains Victoria Green, a participant majoring in Office and Professional Administration at Southeast Community College.
“This change came at no cost to the state of Nebraska,” explains Rebecca L. Gould, Executive Director of the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, “It is a great example of how smart public policy can maximize our resources and create real opportunities for families.”
LB 842, legislation also introduced by Senator Harms, would extend the policy until 2016. A hearing will be held on February 15.