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Schooling teens on the cost of pregnancy

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SCOTT JAGOW: If you have kids, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you just how expensive they are. From diapers to high school cap and gown, we’re talking up to a quarter of a million dollars depending how much you make. Some schools in Texas are finding those costs a great motivator for keeping teenagers from becoming parents. Alex Cohen reports from Austin.

LAUREN ZAKES: Hi, my name is Lauren. I’m 19-years-old, I have two kids they’ll be four this month, yes they’re twins, a boy and a girl named Zoe and Damien.

ALEX COHEN: It’s last period at the Dobie Middle School and a group of students is listening to a presentation made by Lauren Zakes. Lauren tells them about what it was like when she got pregnant when she was just a freshman in high school.

She talks about how rough it was to tell her mom, how hard it was to fit behind her desk at school when she put on 80 pounds and how much it cost to deliver her babies.

ZAKES: Just having my kids, going to the hospital cost $4,000 for me to have them. That’s for my doctor’s appointments.

Lauren is part of a program called No Kidding: Straight Talk from Teen Parents. In addition to sharing stories, No Kidding’s teen educators play games with the students, like this one, modeled after “The Price is Right” where students guess about the costs of things like diapers, car seats and strollers.

ZAKES: One child, one month day care, how much does it cost? Show your boards when you’re ready . . . $150?

Students soon discover the average cost of having a baby is nearly $2,500 a month. To make that much money, the No Kidding presenters explain, they’d have to find a job that pays at least $17 an hour.

Although words like sex, abstinence and protection never came up, this 14-year-old student says the No Kidding presentation made her think carefully about what she does with boys.

FEMALE STUDENT: I learned that I need to be responsible and make wise choices and make sure I stay a virgin ’til I’m married.

Each year in Texas, approximately 55,000 children are born to teen mothers and many of those children wind up relying on the state for financial support. That’s part of the reason why the Texas Attorney General’s office launched the No Kidding program three years ago.

Spokesperson Janece Rolff says it’s hard to gauge the success of the program but she says it’s been immensely popular with students and teachers alike. She says she hopes the program will make teenagers think twice about becoming parents, which eventually could help lessen the impact on the state’s coffers.

JANECE ROLFF: We have more than a million children on our caseload and over half of those children were born to unmarried parents and we would love a world where those children never had a need child support because that’s what’s best for them.

The No Kidding program currently operates in Austin and El Paso. The Attorney General’s office hopes to expand the program to other regions of Texas soon.

In Austin, I’m Alex Cohen for Marketplace.

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