Thu10022014

Schools

Program supporting young parents ends with a budget cut


Town Crier Graphic; Source: MVLA budget
The Young Parents Program relied on independent state funding, meaning that regional cuts will close the program even as MVLA’s core budget increases next year.

Among the constantly shifting funding formulas that dictate how state money trickles down to local schools, one recent budget cut ends an era for Los Altos. Come June, a small program that rallied community support for teen parents will close.

The Young Parents Program used its budget of $112,000 to add healthy child-rearing to the academic curriculum for pregnant and parenting teens. Parents and babies could study together, from a corner of the Mountain View Los Altos (MVLA) Adult Education facility at 333 Moffett Blvd. The MVLA Board of Trustees voted last week to begin dismantling the program, and administrators began informing the young participants.

Many of the local families and taxpayers who support the school district remain largely unaware of the program. But for years it has quietly provided a haven for young men and women who started families earlier than they’d planned to.

When students in the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District become pregnant or have a child, they have the option of joining the parenting program rather than remaining at their home high school. The program offers child care during class hours and adds parenting support and mentoring to the conventional high school curriculum.

Searching for alternatives

School administrators met individually with the eight to 10 students currently using the program to discuss options. If a student hasn’t fallen behind in credits since having a child, she may return to her home high school. If she is academically behind, she has to attend Alta Vista, the continuation high school, or take classes through individual study at Adult Education.

Whichever path they qualify for, come the first day of school in August these students – currently all mothers, though fathers have attended in previous years – must find and pay for a spot in an infant day care program, or convince someone reliable to watch their children during the school day at no cost. Up until now, the parenting program provided a third path – continuing high school with a baby in tow.

“One of the major obstacles for the girls is the child care,” said former Adult Education Director Laura Stefanski, now associate superintendent of human resources for the district. “They may be able to find child care within their own families. We do know that there are female students who are able to obtain it from other sources.”

As of last year, day care centers that accept infants charged an average of $342 per week for full-time care, according to the Community Child Care Council of Santa Clara County’s countywide assessment. In-home care averaged $230 a week. Costs are higher in the Mountain View/Los Altos area, where Young Parents Program students live.

Many of the parent program students work part or full time in addition to studying. Some have family support, but others have had to grow up fast, find a place to rent and support themselves. The parent program offered a flexible schedule, meeting 12:30-3:30 p.m. four days a week for academic programming that can culminate in a high school diploma.

A program apart

Of the nearly 3,800 students in the high school district, only eight to 10 used the parenting program this year. The district has a $60 million annual budget, drawn mostly from local property-tax income, which is expected to increase by approximately 6 percent next year. Broken down per student, the district budgeted approximately $16,000 this year. Eight students, if they collected their share of the budgetary pie, would tally approximately $126,400 per year. But funding for the $112,000 Young Parents Program isn’t as simple as cutting a slice of the pie. The parenting services have never drawn from the district’s general fund, instead relying on support from an assortment of state and federal programs. The parenting and early-childhood education it offered are considered ancillary benefits, separate from high school itself.

“The core mission of a high school district is to educate our 9-12 grades students, as defined by the education code,” said MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves.

He pointed out that like other districts in California, MVLA separately categorizes state-funded special programs such as general equivalency degree courses or English as a Second Language training. In recent years, many districts have gone further than just separating such programs’ funding, entirely shuttering adult education services and diverting their resources into mainstream programs during the recession’s era of budget cuts.

MVLA didn’t raid the adult school budget, according to Stefanski. But it also didn’t reverse course and start propping it up with assistance as state funding dwindled.

Adult Education in MVLA is structured as a self-sustaining enterprise, where students pay fees for classes not covered by state or federal programs. As regional funding fluctuates, programs may be canceled or costs adjusted rather than drawing support from the district’s general fund.

The Young Parents Program depended on the California School Age Families Education Program for its $112,000 a year. That was eliminated from the budget in August, and MVLA’s adult school pinched pennies to temporarily maintain the unfunded program this year, while figuring out alternative options for students who have babies, Stefanski said.

The $112,000 covered a part-time nursery aide, a head teacher and an instructional aide in addition to basic program expenses.

“If you support a program that no longer has the revenue, something else gets cut,” Associate Superintendent Joe White said. “We don’t borrow from Adult Education and we don’t take from Adult Education. … Our primary function is high school – the Adult Ed program is self-sustaining.”

Groves said the district has a policy of “least restrictive environment” for students who become parents, offering them the choice of schools they’re academically eligible to attend. He added that providing a separate program for an increasingly small number of young parents is not cost effective. Enrollment reached as high as 20 in past years but has recently dropped.

“We think the alternatives we have for the girls are very good,” he said, explaining that there are student-parents already enrolled in the district’s other schools.

Groves acknowledged that for some students facing the coming school year with a baby and limited resources, high school education may become at-home study, or pause entirely.

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