Performance Improvement 1998. LEAP: Final Report on Ohio's Welfare Initiative to Improve School Attendance Among Teenage Parents--Ohio's Learning,Earning, and Parenting Program



The goal of Ohio's Learning, Earning, and Parenting (LEAP) Program was to use financial incentives to increase the proportion of pregnant teenagers and teen parents on welfare who graduate from high school or receive a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, find jobs, and ultimately achieve self-sufficiency. The teens are recipients of cash assistance, formerly under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program and more recently under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. This report is the final product in a multi-year evaluation of LEAP. Immediate goals were to induce dropouts to return to high school or to enroll in GED programs, and to promote better attendance among those already enrolled when they were called into LEAP. These short-term goals were accomplished--statistically significant increases in school enrollment and attendance were observed. Longer-term goals were to increase the rate of high school graduation, GED attainment, and teen employment, and to reduce welfare payments. These long-term goals were only partly successful. The LEAP program did not increase high school completion rates except for teens who were initially enrolled in school in the city of Cleveland. LEAP increased employment among those initially enrolled in school but not among those not initially enrolled. There were initial impacts on earnings for the initially enrolled group, but earnings were matched by the control group after two years. Welfare payments fell by more than the cost of the LEAP Program. The evaluation of LEAP is timely in light of new changes to national welfare law, which increases emphasis on school attendance by those who have not completed high school (or its equivalent) and on more employment-oriented activities for teens and other welfare recipients.


This study concluded a multi-year evaluation of LEAP's effect on school enrollment, attendance, employment, earnings, and reduction of dependency on welfare among pregnant teenagers and teen parents who receive AFDC. This report is based on a 4-year followup that traced the cumulative impact of LEAP on these school- and work-related outcomes in Ohio.


Families started by women who first gave birth as teenagers account for approximately 50 percent of all long-term AFDC recipients. The enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 replaced the entitlement to AFDC with block grants to States. Under the law, unmarried custodial minor parents who have not graduated from high school or received a GED certificate may not receive federally funded welfare assistance unless they attend high school or a program that prepares them to earn an alternative education or training credential. Prior to its enactment, however, many States had already implemented some form of school requirement for teen parents on welfare. The LEAP Program in Ohio, initiated in 1989, was one of the first to mandate school attendance for the entire teen parent welfare caseload and to include a rigorous program evaluation. It was hoped that LEAP's direct effects on enrollment and attendance would translate into improvement in other outcomes, such as greater progress in school, more receipt of high school diplomas and GEDs, increased employment, and reduced welfare dependence.


The evaluation of LEAP uses a random assignment research design and multiple data sources. For this report, 12 Ohio counties were sampled to provide data on 4,151 teens, of whom 3,479 were randomly assigned as program group members, and 672 were assigned as control group members. Teens in the program group who met LEAP's requirements had their welfare checks increased by $62 for school enrollment and an additional $62 for each month of acceptable school attendance. Teens who did not comply had $62 deducted from their welfare grant every month until they complied with program rules. During 1992, a teen living on her own with one child was eligible for a monthly AFDC grant of $274--the bonus or sanction of $62 was a significant amount.

A survey was administered to 1,188 teens 1 year after entry to assess school enrollment status and experience with LEAP. Selected county case files were reviewed to study LEAP's implementation and the bonus/sanction process. A survey of 913 teens in 7 counties was made 3 years after random assignment to measure education, employment, and welfare outcomes. Data on employment earnings and welfare dependency were drawn from unemployment and AFDC records, respectively.


A statistically significant increase in teen parent enrollment and attendance in school or in a GED program was achieved. Statistically significant increases were also observed in the completion of the 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. However, the longer-term goal of high school completion or its equivalent was not achieved for the full sample. The program increased GED certificate receipt, but not high school graduation rates, among the subgroup of teens who were enrolled in school when they entered LEAP. No statistically significant differences were found in GED certificate receipt or high school graduation among teens who were not enrolled in school when they entered LEAP. High school graduation rates increased only in Cleveland, which may be attributable to an earlier and enhanced LEAP pilot program in the city Cleveland.

Both the program and control groups of teens experienced substantial growth in employment rates and earnings during the 4-year followup period, with quarterly employment rates increasing from about 15 percent to about 40 percent. The LEAP program increased employment for initially enrolled teens, but not for their control group counterparts during the followup years. Earnings of the initially-enrolled students also increased during the first 2 years of followup, but were ultimately matched by earnings in the control group of teens. Rates of AFDC receipt remained high throughout the followup period (more than 60 percent of all teens were on welfare), but declined from 100 percent at the time of random assignment to 60.9 percent in the last quarter of the fourth year. Program group members were somewhat less likely to receive AFDC than were control group members in at least 1 month in most quarters. LEAP reduced both the number of teens receiving AFDC and the amount of AFDC received, with more of the reduction found among those who were initially enrolled in school. Although LEAP was deemed cost-effective, the size and duration of the effects on employment and AFDC receipts may have been suppressed by LEAP's disappointing effect on school completion.

Recommendations for improved policy and program design focused on ensuring case management and well-designed management information systems, improving teens' understanding of the rules and expectations, intervening early to prevent teens from dropping out of school, addressing teens' reservations about school attendance, rewarding academic progress and school completion, and integrating more work opportunities into the program.

Use of Results

This study provides a useful State model for operating new national welfare rules. It suggests that such programs may need to be complemented by incentives to reward academic progress and school completion in addition to school enrollment and attendance. The education message, however, may need to be combined with more employment-oriented activities in order to meet the more work-oriented expectations and time-limited benefit rules that were mandated in 1996. Programs may be more effective if they take into account the specific needs of distinct groups of teen parents. What works for a 17-year-old who is still in school and can complete within 1 year may not work for a 19-year-old who has been out of school for 3 years and has two children. Providing more tailored services and incentives that are meaningful to specific groups may be necessary to improve upon the outcomes observed under LEAP and to attain improvements in the longer term outcomes for these young families.

AGENCY SPONSOR: Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation


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PERFORMER ORGANIZATION: Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, New York, NY