A new program aimed at improving Oklahoma's poor ranking for teen births got its start today.
The Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy launched at a luncheon in the downtown Tulsa Hyatt.
A poll from the organization found just one in four Oklahomans know the state has the fourth-highest teen birth rate in the United States, and the second-highest birth rate among 17- and 18-year-olds.
Executive Director Kim Schutz said most of the campaign's work in its first year will be on increasing awareness of those statistics. Part of that campaign will be changing how the problem is viewed in such a conservative state.
"We want to get away from teen pregnancy being a moral issue," said Schutz. "It is a public health issue. We have a public health crisis on our hands."
Cathy Burden, a former superintendent of Union Public Schools, was one of the speakers at the event. She's appalled by statistics such as only 40 percent of teen moms finish high school, just 2 percent of teen moms finish college by age 30, and children of teen moms are 50 percent more likely to repeat grades in school.
Burden said education is the best tool to fix the problem, but at-risk kids need to be reached as early as sixth grade and followed through high-school graduation with what she calls an "above-the-waist" approach.
"And when they begin to see themselves as people who are competent and able to be successful, they don't want the kinds of decisions, like drugs or teen pregnancy or other dangerous, risky behaviors, to get in the way," Burden said.
That doesn't mean sex education is out of the picture. Schutz said the campaign found nine out of 10 Tulsa adults favor comprehensive sex education, something Tulsa Public Schools could have district-wide by next year.