Ohio Boosts Attendance among Teen Parents

Article excerpt

Early results from a large-scale evaluation of Ohio's statewide Learning, Earning, and Parenting (LEAP) Program indicate that its unusual combination of financial incentives, penalties, and support services is improving the school attendance of teenage mothers on welfare. The study, which is being conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC), found that LEAP has both reduced the drop out rate among teens who were already in school when they entered the program and persuaded some drop outs to return to high school or enter programs to prepare for the general educational development (GED) test. Early evidence also suggests that LEAP has increased the teens' rates of high school graduation and GED receipt.

These results are described in LEAP: Interim Findings on a Welfare Initiative to Improve School Attendance Among Teenage Parents, the second report in MDRC's multiyear study of LEAP. This article is adapted from the executive summary of that report. The program's longer-term impacts will be examined later in the study. The LEAP evaluation is funded by the Ohio Department of Human Services, the Ford Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, the Cleveland Foundation, BP America, the Treu-Mart Fund, the Procter & Gamble Fund, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

LEAP has attracted national attention because it is one of the first large-scale, mandatory programs targeting teenage mothers on welfare. Most previous programs for this population were small, voluntary efforts mounted by community-based organizations. By contrast, LEAP has reached more than 20,000 teens since it began operating in mid-1989. Although teen mothers account for a small proportion of all welfare recipients at any one time, they are at high risk of long-term welfare dependency. More than half of current welfare households are headed by women who first gave birth as teens. By encouraging and assisting these young mothers to stay in school--or to go back to school if they have dropped out--LEAP aims to increase their chances of graduating and, ultimately, finding jobs and leaving welfare.

Congress recognized the importance of this group in the Family Support Act, which urges all states to target teen parents on welfare for services and to require school attendance. This population is also vital to broader efforts to increase school completion rates, since teens who leave school around the time of a pregnancy or birth account for a substantial share of female drop outs.

THE LEAP MODEL

LEAP was developed by the Ohio Department of Human Services and is operated by county departments of human services in all of Ohio's 88 counties. Participation in the program is mandatory for all pregnant women and custodial parents-almost all of whom are women--under 20 years of age who are receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and who do not have a high school diploma or GED. This includes both teens who head welfare families and those who receive assistance as part of someone else's--usually the teen's mother's--family.

Under program rules, all eligible teens are required to regularly attend school or a program leading to a high school diploma or GED. This applies both to teens who are in school when they become eligible for LEAP--they must remain enrolled--and to drop outs, who must return to high school or enter an adult basic education (ABE) program to prepare for the GED test. LEAP uses a three-tiered incentive structure to enforce this mandate.

First, teens who provide evidence that they are enrolled in school or another educational program receive a bonus payment of $62. They then receive an additional $62 in their welfare checks for each month in which they meet the program's attendance requirements. For teens enrolled in high school full-time, this means no more than four absences per month, including two or fewer unexcused absences. Absences for which the teen obtains a physician's statement are not counted. …

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