Plan extends program for teen mothers Schools OK reprieve for child-care service, but must raise $35,000

Public donations sought

Support aims to help young parents remain on track for diplomas

July 30, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County's program to prevent teen-age mothers from dropping out of school won't be eliminated this fall, but school officials need to raise at least $35,000 to keep it alive for the entire school year.

The program was in danger of being cut this year because of a reduction in state funds earmarked for taking care of teen-age parents' children.

Instead, school officials decided to preserve the program and appeal to the community for help.

"We've got to be able to find 1,000 people with $35 to help support children who are mothers and need to finish their education," said school board member Karen Campbell, "so we don't have to have spend more than 35 tax dollars to support them later."

The program allows the girls to stay in high school by providing child care for their babies while the mothers are in classes nearby.

Seventeen teen-age mothers and their babies are expected to enroll in the program this coming school year, requiring about $65,000 for child care.

But this school year, the school system expects to receive only about $30,000 in state money for child care -- less than half of what is needed and enough to pay for care only through December, said Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan.

Since the program began in 1985, 96 percent of the more than 360 girls who entered it have completed high school and received their diplomas, according to school officials.

"I'm so excited that it's going to be back and that these girls won't be dropping out of school," said Gerry Maxwell-Jones, who supervises the "teen-parenting program" for the school system. "It would have been tragic if the program had been canceled."

The school system pays for the cost of educating the teen-age mothers, but it relies on outside funding for the child care.

In the past, most of the girls were eligible for a state program that reimbursed the school system for the cost of the babies' care.

But in January, the state changed its eligibility standards.

Instead of looking only at the single mother's income, the state calculated eligibility based on total household income.

Because most of the girls live with their parents, their total household incomes are too high and they are no longer eligible for the child-care reimbursement.

The school system picked up the cost of the girls' child care for the second semester of last year, because the change in state eligibility was so sudden and school officials didn't want to force the girls to either quit school or make new arrangements for child care midway through the school year.

School officials now will spend the rest of the summer and the fall appealing to area businesses and organizations to come up with the rest of the money.

Howard schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey likened the situation to an "unfunded mandate" from the state.

Although the state does not require the Howard schools to provide the teen-age mothers with child care, county school officials said providing child care is essential to keeping the girls in school.

School board member Campbell said that county PTAs, stu- dent government and other service organizations should consider donating to help the program.

If school officials are unable to raise enough money this fall, board members said they would consider lending the program enough money to continue through the end of the year -- allowing the loan to be paid off with subsequent donations.

Board members have said they are unwilling to use school funds for the child care because the school budget is tight.

They also consider paying for the child care of the babies of teen mothers to be beyond the scope of the school system's responsibilities.

The program had been housed in Howard County's School of Technology since it began, but this fall it will be moved to the new Wilde Lake High School while the school of technology is renovated.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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