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Incentives Seen Keeping Teenage Parents in School

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An Ohio program is successfully using financial rewards and sanctions to get teenage welfare recipients to complete high school, but it has the largest impact on those who have not already dropped out, a study released last week shows.

The study also suggests that providing more school-based services for teenage parents helps them stay in school.

Many of the welfare proposals pending in Congress--including President Clinton's--would make it easier for states to use monetary incentives to spur teenage parents on welfare to stay in school.

Wisconsin was the first state to dock the welfare benefits of families with truant teenagers, but Ohio was the first to offer a financial carrot to keep them in school.

Ohio's Learning, Earning, and Parenting program, or LEAP, adds $62 to the welfare checks of teenage parents for every month they attend school regularly. It cuts their benefits by the same amount if they drop out or have more than two unexcused absences a month.

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a New York company specializing in welfare research, concluded in a 1993 study of seven Ohio counties that LEAP had helped boost school attendance.

The company's new study of 1,700 teenage parents in Cleveland showed that 21 percent of the LEAP teenagers had graduated from high school or received a General Educational Development certificate after three years in the program, 5.6 percent higher than for those in a control group.

The percentage of those already in school who completed high school or a G.E.D. program under LEAP--30 percent--was much higher than for the control group. But that did not hold true for those who already had dropped out. About 11 percent of those recipients completed their studies, a figure not significantly higher than for the control group.

"Our results echo other research on teen parent dropouts," said David Long, the director of an ongoing evaluation of LEAP by the research group and a co-author of the new study. "The effects are more positive if you can get to teens within a year of dropping out."

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Judith Gueron, the president of Manpower, said the study offers good news on the effect of programs like LEAP on teenage mothers, one of the hardest groups to wean off welfare.

LEAP offers some case-management services, child care, and transportation aid to make it easier for people to attend school. But for about half of the LEAP teenage parents in Cleveland, the study raised funds to offer more school-based child care, parenting classes, and case managers; "teen focused" G.E.D. programs; and community-based services.

The extra services did not have much impact on those not attending school but made a difference for those who did, Mr. Long said.

Copies of the report, "The Educational Effects of LEAP and Enhanced Services in Cleveland," are available for $15 each from the Manpower Demonstration Research Project, 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

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