President Obama’s first budget proposes to end state grants for school drug programs that he and Vice President Biden fought for as senators.
Last year, when President Bush asked Congress to stop funding the grants under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program, Obama, Biden and 35 other senators protested. They signed a letter calling it “the backbone of youth drug prevention” that was “making a difference” for 37 million children. They signed similar letters in 2006 and 2007.
Obama’s budget calls the program “poorly designed” and cites a 2001 study by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center that found it “profoundly flawed.”
The grants are too small to be effective, says William Modzeleski, head of the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools in the Education Department. More than half the recipients get less than $10,000, he says.
Funding has declined since 2003, when Congress allotted $472 million for the grants. In 2006 and 2007, Bush proposed cutting out the program but Congress allotted $346.5 million each year. Last year, Bush requested $100 million; Congress nearly tripled it to $295 million.
“The inherent flaw in these state grants is it tries to do too much with too little,” Modzeleski says. “It’s not that we don’t need to spend some money on creating safe schools for kids. That’s paramount. That’s critical. But we have to do it in an effective manner.”
Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman, says, “It’s important that we invest in what works and don’t invest in what doesn’t. … The funding is spread too thin.”
The Education Department says a related national program funds proven projects. Obama’s budget would add $102 million to that program for a total of $239 million.
Arthur Dean, CEO of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, says many state programs work, and the federal government hasn’t asked for proof.
His group’s leaders and students from some Virginia and West Virginia schools will deliver petitions supporting the program to Congress Thursday, he says.
“Many of these districts bring their money together to do important things,” Dean says. “Only inside the D.C. Beltway could someone say $10,000 is too little.”
In Wisconsin, 22 small school districts have pooled their money since 1989. They have created an anti-drug website and course for rural schools, trained 1,274 educators in prevention strategies and presented 814 programs for parents, says Jeff Bentz of the Cooperative Educational Service Agency 8 in Gillett, Wis.
“Some small districts can do great things with very little money,” Bentz says. “If the president knows these things work and work well, I think that he’s a reasonable person and will change his mind.”
– Article from USA Today.