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Phila. Scales Back School-Based Child-Care Services

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Ever since mothers trooped off to work in factories during World War II, the Philadelphia school district has been providing the public with subsidized day care for infants and toddlers.

Now, the unusual program is being scaled back in favor of a new social need: serving teenage parents. Teen-parent centers will be set up in each of the city's 22 neighborhood high schools to serve the young children of public school students.

The need, district officials argue, is critical: Each year, about 2,700 of Philadelphia's 200,000 public school students have babies. Many drop out of school if they cannot find reliable, affordable child care.

The district also needs the space occupied by day-care classes in elementary schools to provide all-day kindergarten, one of the centerpieces of Superintendent David W. Hornbeck's "Children Achieving" agenda.

But parents with children in the public programs are protesting that they will not be able to find affordable care of similar quality on the open market.

The district spends about $18 million a year on its comprehensive day-care programs, which serve children in infancy through age 4. Slots are open to working families, who pay reduced fees based on their incomes.

Without the programs, said Robert L. LaPorte, a parent-activist, families will have few options.

"They might be back in the welfare lines," he said. "They can't afford day care."

Family-Resource Networks

By September, the district plans to have 13 teenage-parent centers in high schools to serve students. The centers will provide child care, offer parenting classes, and help link families with social services. Eight high schools in the city already have some form of on-site child care.

Eventually, the centers are to become part of family-resource networks planned for each of the district's 22 school clusters that will link families with city agencies.

By focusing its resources on students and their children, the district can serve two generations at once and help prepare young children for academic success, said Allie Mulvihill, a district administrator working on the child-care plan.

During the transition period, "we are working diligently to create a safety net so that no child will find him or herself without care," she said.

Next year, 213 children enrolled in the public infant-and-toddler program will need care. Some may be served in teenage-parent centers in high schools.

The school district is working with local providers to find spots in other day-care programs for other children from the public program.

The district employs 145 paraprofessionals to work in the infant-and-toddler programs. Their jobs will be shifted to the teenage-parent classes.

In addition to providing Head Start programs for disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds, the district will continue to provide early-childhood programs for children in that age group whose parents have low-wage jobs or who are in job training.

"In the best of all worlds, we'd be able to serve all children," Ms. Mulvihill said, "but we are a large urban school district seeking adequate funding and having some difficulty finding it."

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