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Legislators hear about poverty's impact on West Virginia children

Feb. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- More than one of every four of the 103,758 children in West Virginia up to 4 years old lives in poverty, Dr. Patricia S. Kusimo of The Education Alliance told members of a newly created special study committee in the Legislature here Wednesday morning.

The Education Alliance, a nonprofit research and K-12 local education fund in West Virginia begun in 1983, believes that one of every four 9th-grade students will not complete high school within four years, and some never do.

Kusimo followed Margie Hale, director of Kids Count, which is an organization created by former Gov. Gaston Caperton more than two decades ago. Hale provided a statistical report that indicates one of every eight babies in West Virginia is born to a teen-age mother who is often not married.

Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph, said he has learned of a young girl only 13 years old who has just delivered her third child.

Senate Majority Leader John Unger II, D-Berkeley, is chairman of the Senate Child and Poverty Committee that convened for its first of several weekly sessions on Wednesday. The committee membership includes chairs of the important Senate committees -- Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha; and Senate Education Committee Bob Plymale, D-Wayne.

Prezioso said current practices in West Virginia provide an incentive to get "young girls to become pregnant" because the state then provides the new mother with an apartment if she is not married.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said the committee needs to explore what the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources does to deal with teenage pregnancies.

"We should know even though this is quite a sensitive area," he said.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said many of the kids born to a teenage mother are not likely to graduate from high school.

Some of the other findings by The Education Alliance are:

The chances of a child growing up in poverty are nine times greater if the child is born to an unmarried, teen parent who does not have a high school diploma.

This state's teen pregnancy rate increased by 17 percent between 2007 and 2009.

More than half of the children enrolled in public elementary or secondary schools during the 2011-2012 school year qualified for a free or reduced cost lunch.

Unger said the new committee will meet every Wednesday morning during the current legislative session.