School Board yanks funding for teen-mom program

A program for teen moms and their young children will start in the fall despite the School Board’s recent decision to take back $200,000 earmarked for the renovation of portable classroom buildings for it.

Renovations to the portable buildings for the Family and Child Development Center planned for the Northside High campus was one of the projects stripped from the 2013-14 school year budget during a May 29 meeting at which board members tried to find a way to fill a $4 million budget shortfall. The board has yet to finalize the 2013-14 budget and plans to meet June 18.

Superintendent Pat Cooper said Thursday that he’ll ask the board to fund at least $100,000 for the project to prepare at least two classrooms and launch the program in time for the start of school in the fall. If the board refuses, private funding is an option but the program’s start date could still be delayed, he said.

The program is a way to keep teen moms in school, but also will provide parenting and child care classes that will lead to certification, qualifying the young women for jobs in a child care center, Cooper said.

“They’ll get a lot of parent training and abstinence training,” he said. “What we know from past experiences is if they stay in school and are part of this program, then there’s far less likelihood of them having a second or third baby as teenagers.”

The program is also designed to prepare the teens’ children for success in kindergarten.

“We know it works,” said Cooper, who started similar programs as superintendent in West Feliciana Parish and in McComb, Miss. “The data is there to show that these girls will graduate and they won’t have additional babies, and their babies will start school ready to learn.”

Based on the most recent statistics available, 320 Lafayette Parish teens ages 19 and younger were pregnant in 2009, and that number declined when 294 teen pregnancies were reported in 2010 and 266 teen pregnancies reported in 2011, said June Inhern, district assistant director of early childhood programs.

More recent data from 2012 was not available Thursday.

At least 16 teen mothers zoned for Northside High and 16 children ages six weeks to four years old are targeted for the program.

So far, at least seven eligible Northside High teens have been identified, and the district will attempt to recruit teen moms who dropped out of Northside to fill the remaining spots, Cooper said.

The goal is to expand the program at other high schools.

Stripping the funding for the building renovations was supported during the May 29 budget meeting by five members: Tommy Angelle, Greg Awbrey, Mark Allen Babineaux, Kermit Bouillion and Rae Trahan.

Shelton Cobb, Tehmi Chassion, Hunter Beasley and Mark Cockerham voted against removing the funds.

At the meeting, Angelle said that while he thinks the district should do what it can to ensure teen mothers graduate, “I just have a problem … bringing little babies to school and asking taxpayers to pick up the tab.”

The funding to set up the buildings for the program is a one-time expense for the district, Cooper said.

Site preparation to open the program on Northside High’s campus began last year, but was unfinished, Cooper said.

“We’re kind of left hanging here with half a project done in terms of the building and the capital outlay that we’ve had to put in,” he said.

The program will be funded by more than $261,000 in federal and state funds earmarked for early childhood intervention and child care assistance programs.