FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Faced with losing about $477,000 in state funding in the upcoming biennial budget, students in the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program urged lawmakers on a House budget review subcommittee to reconsider Wednesday.

TAPP, part of Jefferson County Public Schools, serves 105 teenage mothers and pregnant students as they continue their high school education.

Students and a graduate of TAPP told lawmakers on the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Primary and Secondary Education and Workforce Development that the program – particularly its Project SMART initiative that emphasizes career paths in science, math and technology – offers resources that will help them in life after high school, such as job interview coaching and help applying for postsecondary financial aid.

State funding for TAPP was eliminated in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed two-year budget, which is in the hands of the House of Representatives as they craft their version of the spending plan.

Perla Huitron, a junior at the South Park TAPP, told lawmakers she was never interested in her grades in high school or going to college. At one point, she said her grade-point average fell below 1.0.

But that changed when she became pregnant with her daughter and moved to Kentucky from California.

“Project SMART helped me to see the person that I wanted to become in the medical field or law school,” Huitron said. “… This program made me really think about going into college and my career, and if it wasn’t for the field trips we take to different colleges, I wouldn’t know what college I would want to go to.”

Jacklyn Riggs, who graduated from South Park TAPP in 2015, also credited Project SMART for getting her ready for life as a college student.

It even helped her land a job in insurance immediately after graduating high school, she said.

“Project SMART is my success story,” Riggs said. “I am happy to say two degrees later I have a career that I love and I’m still in school to grow more within the company, all while having a happy, healthy 5-year-old son that looks up to me.”

DeLena Alexander, principal of TAPP, told WDRB News that she hoped legislators on the subcommittee understood how important the program is for current and expecting mothers in TAPP as they work to graduate high school.

TAPP would have to cut back on its offerings without state funding, she said.

But Alexander says she’s going to keep fighting to protect TAPP funding in the budget, something the state has provided for about 10 years.

“I can’t say that everything will be just as intact as it was with the funding, but we’ll fight hard to make a semblance of what it should be,” she said after Wednesday’s hearing. “It would be hard, but again, I’m here fighting for girls, so I’ve got to make it work somehow.”

TAPP is one of several programs cut entirely from Bevin’s proposed budget, which dedicates substantial resources to Kentucky’s underfunded public pension systems.

Rep. Regina Huff, who chairs the House budget review subcommittee on education, said TAPP “is an impressive program” that she would like to see implemented throughout Kentucky, but finding $477,000 in a spending plan that includes hefty pension contributions and tepid revenue growth will be a challenge for lawmakers as they start writing their version of the budget.

“As we juggle the numbers and things, I really don’t have any idea where we have it in terms of funding right now,” said Huff, R-Williamsburg.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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