To mark National Teen Pregnancy Month, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) joined U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to introduce the Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act (PPSAE), a bill that would help states and local school districts support pregnant and parenting youth who face unique challenges staying in school and graduating ready for college or a career.
Each year in the U.S., approximately 750,000 teens get pregnant and almost one-fifth of students across the country drop out of high school. In a nationwide survey, 33 percent of female dropouts and almost 20 percent of male dropouts reported that becoming a parent was a major factor in their decision to leave school. Pregnant and parenting teens face many barriers to education, including enrolling in and attending school, juggling schoolwork with parenting responsibilities, lack of access to child care or transportation, and discrimination or stigma attached to being a pregnant and/or parenting teen. Teachers and administrators also often lack the resources or training to support pregnant and parenting students.
The Pregnant and Parenting Students Access to Education Act (PPSAE) would reduce these barriers by empowering states and local districts to support teenage mothers and fathers and reduce the student dropout rate.
"Achieving a high school diploma is critical to young peoples' ability to succeed in the workforce. Yet pregnancy and parenting responsibilities significantly increase a student's risk of dropping out of school," said Rep. Polis. "This legislation would provide resources for pregnant and parenting youth, so that they are not forced to choose between staying in school and supporting their new families."
"Teenage pregnancy holds girls and boys back from reaching their dreams," said Rep. Chu. "Teens who become mothers and fathers before they are ready are often forced to choose between their own education and their responsibilities as a parent, stunting their earning potential and increasing the chance that their child may dropout someday as well. I am proud to introduce the Pregnant and Parenting Students' Access to Education Act to put an end to this tragic tradeoff. We must provide the services parents need to stay and succeed in school."
Specifically, the PPSAE would authorize grants to fund new and existing programs that promote the educational success of pregnant and parenting students. The bill would also help schools provide academic services like parenting and life skill classes while offering incentives for schools to modify policies that remove barriers for pregnant and parenting students to continue their education.
It also empowers school districts to provide parenting case management services, pregnancy prevention programs, referrals to primary health care physicians and other social services needed by the students. Finally, the bill would collect and report data like graduation rates for pregnant and parenting students annually and require rigorous evaluation of the grant programs to ensure they are accountable and effective at helping students stay in school.
"Teen pregnancy and dropout rates are too high across the country and especially in New Mexico," Senator Udall said. "Support for pregnant and parenting students can go a long way, and that is why we want to help teenage parents stay in school, go back to school, or graduate from school with the skills to have a meaningful career and take care of their family."
"Graduating high school or attaining a GED is fundamental to a student's future success in our workforce. But the huge dropout rates for pregnant and parenting students demonstrate just how difficult it can be for these students to finish their education," said Senator Hirono. "By providing resources and support to these students and acknowledging the challenges they face, we can help them stay in school and on track to career success."
Diverse groups from the health and education communities in New Mexico support the measure, including the Healthy Teen Network, the National Women's Law Center and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.