Pubdate: Fri,  8 Apr 2005
Source: Plain Dealer, The (OH)
Copyright: 2005 The Plain Dealer
Note: priority given to local letter writers
Author: John Horton
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


A federal budget squeeze could choke off the money behind school programs 
that tackle issues such as violence, bullying, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Dollars for the Safe and Drug Free Schools initiative could dry up in 2006 
under President George Bush's proposed budget. The recommendation is 
drawing protests from Ohio education and social service officials, who say 
state and local dollars won't be available to continue the services. The 
president's spending plan eliminates $437 million now distributed 
nationally through Safe and Drug Free Schools, the backbone of school-based 
substance abuse prevention and intervention efforts. Ohio schools receive 
more than $13 million, while the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug 
Addiction Services gets about $3.2 million for youth programs. The money 
brings to life myriad programs that touch all of Ohio's 1.8 million 
students in some way, says Staci Kelts of the Ohio Department of Education. 
Kelts helps oversee Ohio's use of the dollars, which flow to every district 
in the state.

Cleveland schools received $932,000 this year, which went to run acclaimed 
empowerment and prevention programs such as Girl Power. Akron took in 
nearly $340,000 and Lorain $149,000. Many smaller districts collect only a 
few thousand dollars a year.

Programs financed with the money help create an environment conducive to 
learning, Kelts said. Unless the money is restored in the federal budget, 
most of these programs would disappear by the 2006-2007 school year. Money 
for next school year is assured by this year's federal budget. "If students 
are worried about their safety, or if they've got a substance abuse 
problem, they're not going to achieve," Kelts said. "These issues need to 
be addressed, and they won't be without this money." But federal officials 
say they're not convinced the nation is getting a good return on its 

The White House Office of Management and Budget rated the Safe and Drug 
Free Schools grant program ineffective and called it "fundamentally 
flawed," according to a 2004 report. Dollars are spread too thin to make a 
measurable impact, said Deborah Price, who helps oversee the program for 
the U.S. Department of Education.

The president's budget recommends reducing the program to target specific 
communities. Agencies and school districts will compete for $87.5 million 
in discretionary grants instead of automatically receiving money. "The 
dollars are smaller, but they can - in our mind - bring more results," 
Price says.

That logic is flawed, says Donna Conley, chief executive officer of the 
Ohio Citizen Advocates for Chemical Dependency Prevention and Treatment. 
She predicted an increase in use of drugs and alcohol among youth if the 
program gets gutted.

"The problems are everywhere, and everywhere needs a program in place," 
Conley says. "You can't do more with less."

The federal budget remains a work in progress. State and local officials 
said they plan to lobby their legislators to restore the money.
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