AR Briefly

Bill to support pregnant and parenting high schoolers passes Arkansas House

By: - February 8, 2023 7:15 pm

Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock) presents the Support for Pregnant and Parenting Students Act to the Arkansas House on Feb. 8, 2023. (Screenshot)

A proposed law meant to help teenage parents in Arkansas finish high school passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday with 98 votes for and none against.

The Support for Pregnant and Parenting Students Act, or House Bill 1161, passed the House Education Committee unanimously on Tuesday and has bipartisan sponsorship in both chambers.

“We have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates [of any state] in the country, and we have one of the lowest high school graduation rates,” Rep. Ashley Hudson (D-Little Rock), the bill’s primary sponsor, told the full House before the vote. “Obviously, the correlation between those two things is no surprise.”

The bill would require public schools and open-enrollment charter schools to allow at least 10 days of excused absences for both teenage parents after the birth of their child. This would be an exception to the legal requirement for schools to consider students truant and dismiss them after they miss more than 10 days of school.

The bill would also require schools to excuse teen parents’ absences due to:

  • Labor, delivery and recovery
  • Prenatal and postnatal doctors’ appointments and other “medically necessary” absences related to pregnancy
  • Children’s illnesses or doctors’ appointments
  • Legal appointments regarding adoption, custody, visitation and other matters related to pregnancy and parenting

Students would have “a reasonable amount of time” that is at least the number of days they were absent to make up for schoolwork they missed, according to the bill.

Schools would be required to provide pregnant and parenting students with information about daycare facilities in the area, which is publicly available in an Arkansas Department of Human Services database.

Additionally, schools would be required to designate a private space for lactating students to pump and breastfeed, as well as refrigerated space to store breast milk in a nurse’s office, teacher’s lounge or other location with an expectation of privacy.

The Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families organization supports the bill and believes it will reduce the high school dropout rate of teenage parents, education policy director Olivia Gardner said in Tuesday’s committee meeting.

The Senate will address the bill with Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) as its primary sponsor.

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Tess Vrbin
Tess Vrbin

Tess Vrbin came to the Advocate from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where she reported on low-income housing and tenants' rights, and won awards for her coverage of 2021 flooding and tornado damage in rural Arkansas. She previously covered local government for The Commercial Dispatch in Mississippi and state government for the Columbia Daily Tribune in Missouri.