Pubdate: Fri, 24 Aug 2007
Source: Ledger, The (Lakeland, FL)
Copyright: 2007 The Ledger
Bookmark: (D.A.R.E.)


Florida Budget Cuts

Few adults, particularly parents, would question the need for schools 
to offer programs educating children and teens about the dangers of 
drugs. But it may be time to end, at least for now, the approach long 
embraced by Florida officials.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, which began almost a 
quarter-century ago in Los Angeles, is widely used in schools in our 
region and around the nation. Typically, police officers are trained 
to talk to children about avoiding the illegal use of drugs and 
involvement in gangs.

But, in a telling move, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is 
asking the state to end the agency's participation in the program. 
FDLE officials have suggested cutting $376,362 for the anti-drug 
program from its yearly appropriation. The money is currently used to 
fund a D.A.R.E. training program for deputies and police officers.

With the state facing a $1.5 billion shortfall, decision makers at 
the FDLE are forced to reduce expenses and focus on essential 
services. D.A.R.E. is no longer deemed a priority.

The decision follows years of studies - including one last year by 
the Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government 
Accountability - questioning the effectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, an investigation agency 
for Congress, concluded the same in 2003, stating that D.A.R.E. had 
"no statistically significant long-term effect on preventing illicit drug use."

Similar assessments have been made in recent years by the U.S. 
Department of Education, the U.S. Surgeon General and the National 
Academy of Sciences.

None of these entities has a predisposition to dismiss anti-drug 
programs as an inefficient use of tax dollars. FDLE officials have 
supported the program for years, certainly would welcome any help 
they could get in curbing drug abuse and dealing.

Larry Stripling, president of the Florida D.A.R.E. Officers 
Association and a Martin County Sheriff's Office deputy, said if the 
cut is made, the association could take over training that would be 
eliminated by the FDLE budget cut. The association could use money 
from government grants and private donations, he said, to fund the training.

D.A.R.E. advocates contend the long-running criticism is based on 
outdated research. They say key changes have been made in the 
program. But the continuing loss of support indicates that it's time 
to step back and retool the program.

Perhaps a model can be found in the Florida's widely praised 
anti-smoking program for teens, credited with reducing smoking rates 
among young people. Besides warning about the health risks, the 
campaign focuses on the ways that tobacco companies manipulate young 
people - an argument that seems to capture the attention of teens 
protective of their independence.

Make no mistake: Florida schools need an aggressive program to fight 
drugs and gangs. But D.A.R.E., it appears, is no longer the daring 
initiative it was.
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