Column: Teen Parent Program Aids Future (New York Metro)

January 14, 2009 —  By Donna Lieberman — President Obama has pledged $10 billion in new funding for early childhood education programs. He promises that the nation’s economic woes won’t sideline that investment.

New York City’s elected leaders should embrace this forward-thinking approach and work to preserve, and even expand, support services for young children and teen parents.

Sadly, a crucial program is vulnerable. The Administration for Children Services recently cut its share of funding from the Living for Young Families through Education (LYFE) program, a vital daycare service that allows hundreds of teen parents to stay in school while their babies are cared for.

In recent years, tens of millions of dollars have been poured into programs of, at best, dubious educational value: an overly-aggressive school policing program that is larger than the entire police force in Washington D.C.; unfettered military recruitment in the schools; and a steady barrage of high-stakes standardized tests that have funneled untold millions into no-bid contracts to the testing industry.

The Department of Education must replace LYFE’s lost funding. We cannot afford to cripple a program that already falls short of meeting the enormous need for daycare services in the city’s schools.

The 38 LYFE centers accommodate only 638 infants and toddlers, a small fraction of the affected student population. Studies have documented drop out rates for teen parents as high as 70 percent, though these students are legally entitled to a free public education.

Students who have enrolled in the LYFE program credit it with their achievement in school and their success as parents. Research shows that teen moms who put their babies in school-based child care are less likely to become impoverished or have a second teen pregnancy than those who lack such support.

Fully supported, the LYFE program could be a vital service to the thousands of teens who become parents in the city each year, saving tax dollars in the long term by promoting educational success and the economic independence that flows from it.

President Obama understands the long-term value of these programs. His commitment to early education is driven by research – much of it conducted by Nobel Prize-winning economists – showing that money spent on educational services for the very young reduces the need for far greater government spending on welfare, criminal justice and health care programs. A Rand Corporation study determined that effective early childhood education programs return as much as $17 for every dollar invested.

We must make our local elected officials realize that an investment in the LYFE program would generate a similar return. Moreover, it would help protect two generations at once, yielding social and economic benefits for years to come.

Donna Lieberman is the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.