Local: Education

For teen parents, day care free at area high schools

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Steven Ramos doesn't cry anymore when his mother drops him off at day care.

"He loves it. He's one of those babies who wants to do everything by himself," says 19-year-old Lizbeth Gutierrez. "He doesn't want my help."

But while Steven may not want any help, Gutierrez admits she needs it. She is a senior at Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, and the son she had at 16 attends a day care center inside the school building. She pays nothing for the care, as the county subsidizes the center and the state gives her vouchers.

At least seven day care centers operate inside Washington-area high schools, serving teen parents who say they might have dropped out of school without the on-site, discounted service. But critics question whether the facilities encourage teens to engage in risky sexual activity by providing a safety net on the taxpayers' dime.

The centers currently serve six to 18 infants and toddlers each. Four DC Public Schools campuses offer free day care for students' kids. The District pays tuition ranging from $40.70 to $54.41 per day at Bell Multicultural, Ballou, Dunbar and Luke C. Moore high schools, with the federal Head Start program picking up the rest.

In Prince George's County, day care centers at Northwestern and Bladensburg high schools receive a $200,000 grant from the county to provide programs, summer employment and, in some cases, transportation for high school students with children.

The day care center at Fairfax County's Bryant Alternative High School is run by a nonprofit. With county and state vouchers,

tuition totals $7 a week for the six teen parents who use the center. T.C. Williams, the only high school in Alexandria, also runs a school-based center. Arlington offers free day care at a county

building on McKinley Road.

But should they? Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, said local and state governments send the wrong message by cutting costs for teen parents.

"We're subsidizing and encouraging out-of-wedlock births," Purves said. "It encourages a large class of people who are totally dependent on the government."

In 2008, teen childbearing cost taxpayers at least $10.9 billion, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. But many of these costs -- pricier health care, foster care, incarceration and lost tax revenue -- are canceled out when teens obtain an education and support their families, according to school officials who have watched it happen firsthand.

Trevon Epps dropped out of School Without Walls, one of the District's best high schools, when he impregnated a charter school student in his senior year. But Epps, 18, enrolled at Moore this year because the school offered free day care for his 9-month-old son.

"If I didn't have this option, I would have to struggle every day to find someone to watch him," Epps said. "There would be days when I couldn't go to school so I could watch him."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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