Women's Philanthropy

Take Action To Support DC’s Pregnant & Parenting Teens

Our city’s budget decisions have a profound impact on our everyday lives. Affecting everything from trash pick-up to library and recreation center services, DC budget decisions are at the center of community well-being.  Mayor Bowser’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget allocates some very needed resources to help families and neighborhoods thrive. However, it also includes a significant reduction in funding for an important, evidence-based program that has succeeded in changing the odds for young pregnant and parenting teens in the District.

In recent years, the New Heights Program for Expectant and Parenting Students inexplicably has required an annual battle for funding.  The New Heights Program helps students navigate the challenges of pregnancy, parenthood, and completing high school under challenging circumstances. It is a voluntary school-based program that provides one-on-one intensive supports.  It currently serves students in 15 DC public high schools, as well as a few public middle schools. The program’s goal is to increase school engagement, credit accumulation, and progress toward graduation for expectant and parenting students. In addition, it focuses on building teen parents’ self-sufficiency and resilience, improving and maintaining their and their babies’ health, and preventing secondary teen pregnancies … and it is succeeding in meeting these goals.

Expectant and parenting students are at high risk of poor school attendance and of ultimately dropping out of school, which limits their future economic opportunities. The New Heights program matches expectant and parenting students with a school-based coordinator to integrate advocacy, case management, weekly educational workshops, and incentives into the students’ school day.

Many of the teens who take advantage of the New Heights program are on their own with little to no family support, many without parents nearby. Coordinators take time to get to know students, understand them, and gain their trust. They become part of their village and in some instances their only source of support. A Mathematica Policy Research evaluation concluded that New Heights provides quality work based on a youth development, strength-based approach. It praised the program’s committed team of coordinators, who build strong relationships with students by being present, available, non-judgmental and supportive when pregnant and parenting adolescents ask for help.

This school year alone, the program has served more than 180 expectant and parenting students.  In order for New Heights to continue to provide quality, effective, one-on-one support and services, an additional $375,000 must be added to the program’s FY 2020 budget. These additional funds will allow the program to maintain its current staffing level of seven coordinators (the minimum necessary to ensure continued quality services) as well as provide funding for a database improvement, supplies and incentives. Without appropriate staffing levels, the program will lose its ability to have coordinators available for students when they ask for help – the very thing that makes it effective.

We are disappointed that Mayor Bowser’s FY2020 budget for the DC Public Schools cuts three coordinators from this successful program. Budget cutbacks to New Heights are particularly perplexing given the city’s focus on improving maternal and infant health and well-being.  It makes no sense to hamstring programs that are succeeding in improving the lives of young mothers and their babies. The Women’s Foundation wrote a letter to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson; Committee on Education Chairman, David Grosso; and Committee on Human Services Chairwoman Brianne Nadeau earlier this month to encourage the Council to identify the $375,000 necessary to fully fund this program.  Additionally, members of our Young Women’s Advisory Council also wrote letters of support for the program and encouraged DC City Councilmembers to restore needed funding to support their efforts to successfully thrive in DC.

If you agree that this important program should be fully funded in the FY 2020 DC Budget, we urge you to take one (or more) of the following actions today!

1)      Contact your City Council Member and the four Council Members highlighted below.  Ask them to support the New Heights program with an additional $375,000 which will fund the three staff positions that were cut in the DCPS budget, as well as an update for their data base, incentives and supplies (which the New Heights coordinators have been paying out of their own pockets!).

2)     Share this information with friends and urge them also to send emails or make calls.

3)      Post this information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media.

3)     Sign up to testify at the DC Council Committee of the Whole hearing on Friday,  April 26 at 10:00 a.m. by contacting Chairman Mendelson’s office (at 202-724-8032 or pmendelson@dccouncil.us)

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC