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Funding Cut For Hartford Public High School Day Care

JODIE MOZDZER

February 19, 2009

Despite the city's vocal push to raise its dismal high school graduation rate, school officials have cut funding for a day-care program that helps teenage mothers finish school.

By failing to appropriate about $135,000 for three staff members at the Little Owls Learning Center at Hartford Public High School, district officials have essentially ended the program, which opened in 1997.

Parents and staff were shocked. They said this would have an immediate effect on teen mothers, who will need to make new arrangements for the 2009-2010 school year. Hartford Public's 2008 graduation rate, which measures how many freshmen graduated in four years, was only 36 percent.

"The girls that are in the program right now would have to drop out of school," said Julie Wacht, the program's head teacher.

Those girls include Brandy Williams, 18, who transferred to Hartford Public High School to avoid dropping out when she had her daughter, Iyanna Douglas, eight months ago.

"If they never had this day care, I would never have been in school," said Williams, a senior in the Nursing Academy.

The program has also helped Luz Lopez, whose 15-year-old daughter, Janelle Burton, got pregnant last year. Lopez has joint custody of 7-month-old Nyzaiah Burton, and said she would quit her job before she let Burton drop out of school, as Lopez did when she was 17 and pregnant.

"We really need this program," Lopez said. "These teen moms need this. If it wasn't for this program, I would have quit my job. My daughter's a young mom. And I'm also responsible for this baby."

The Little Owls day care enrolls children from 3 months old to 3 years old.

District spokesman David Medina said the program is expensive to run at about $16,000 a child. There are nine children in the program full time, and one that attends once a week. Two are children of staff members at the high school, who pay about $107 a week in tuition money that helps pay for diapers, snacks and toys. The students do not pay for the day care.

The three staff members one teacher and two paraprofessionals cost the district more than $135,000, Medina said.

"The amounts we get from staff tuition nowhere near cover the expenses," Medina said.

The program was funded through grants for the first five years; the district has paid the salaries since then. This year, the district asked the four principals at Hartford Public High School to pay for the staff in their budgets. But when preliminary budgets were turned in this week, Little Owls was left out.

"It's really unfair, and wrong, for them to shut it down for a couple of dollars," Lopez said.

Medina said Christina Kishimoto, the assistant superintendent for school choice, would look at other avenues to fund the program possibly through other grants or private donations.

Still, the need continues for Hartford teens. Right now, there are 22 people on the waiting list, including a middle school student who will attend Hartford Public High School next year, Wacht said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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