By Eric Bybee
Texas has the fourth-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, with a total of 48,586 teen births in 2010. Parenthood is a leading cause of school dropouts for female students. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, only about 51 percent of teen moms have a high school diploma. Two CPPP-supported bills filed this session proposed common-sense ways to improve educational outcomes for teen parents.
The first of these bills, HB 455, requires a school district to excuse a temporary absence for a student taking a dependent to an appointment with a health care provider, as long as the student comes to school on the same day of the appointment. The proposal helps parenting teens accomplish their educational goals by safe-guarding against unnecessary unexcused absences and also encouraging them to seek adequate medical care for their dependents. Unnecessary absences also cost school districts money in lost funding. According to the E3 Alliance, three days of absences in Central Texas districts are equivalent to $34 million in lost funding. Austin Independent School District alone loses $45 for every day that a student is absent. Gov. Perry signed this bill into law on June 14.
A second bill, HB 580, would have provided more flexibility to school districts to determine how they use in how they use state compensatory education allotment funds to assist students at risk of dropping out of school because of a lack of child care. Some districts have been struggling to provide child care since state budget cuts in fiscal 2012-2013 ended the Life Skills Program for Teen Parents grant program, which had previously distributed $17.7 million in matching funds to districts in the 2010-2011 biennium. HB 580 would have added child-care expenses to the categories of items a district could pay for with existing compensatory education funds. Unfortunately, this bill didn’t make it out of Senate Committee.
This session saw partial steps in the right direction but more must be done to improve academic outcomes for parenting teens.