November 23, 2012

Study: Pregnant teens need better school support

A new report says offering pregnant teens extra support would ultimately save taxpayers money by helping them become financially independent and not dependent on welfare.

Kelli Kennedy / The Associated Press

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Kali Gonzalez reads to her daughter Kiah, 2, at their home in St. Augustine, Fla., recently. A new report by the National Women's Law Center says offering pregnant teens extra support would ultimately save taxpayers money by helping them become financially independent and not dependent on welfare.

AP

But a few states have developed programs to help improve graduate rates among pregnant girls and young mothers.

In Washington, D.C., caseworkers in the New Heights Teen Parent Program often stand by the school entrance or text pregnant students and young moms to make sure they are attending classes.

When students do miss school, caseworkers take them homework assignments. About 600 students participate in the program which also helps students with housing, child care and parenting skills. But the $1.6 million federal grant funding the program runs out next year and officials said they don't have a clear future funding source.

Roughly 4,500 male and female student parents participated in a Pennsylvania program last year where case workers helped them balance school and child care. Nearly 1,300 graduated or received an equivalent, state officials said. The ELECT program, which started in 1990 as a partnership between state child welfare and education officials, monitors students' attendance, coordinates summer programs and links them with support systems in the community.

Florida allows pregnant and parenting students to receive homebound instruction and lays out a clear process to make up missed work. The state also gives those students the option of taking online classes.

In St. Johns County, where Gonzalez lives, the school district provides free day care for teen moms and bus transportation for students and their children.

Pregnant students are often stereotyped as low-achievers, but advocates say pregnancy actually motivates some to do better in school.

Gonzalez, whose daughter is now 2, said her grades improved after she became pregnant.

"I did push myself a lot harder and I made sure that I wasn't going to be that statistic," said Gonzalez, who is now married and pursuing a nursing degree.

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