Proposed funding cuts for drug prevention programs have Scottsdale educators worried following a highly publicized drug bust involving local high school students.
Lion’s Quest, a replacement for the failed Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, is being touted by Scottsdale Unified School District officials as one step in fighting drugs. Superintendent John Baracy wants to take the program to every classroom in all grades, but officials said that will be a struggle if the program doesn’t continue to receive federal funds.
Current local and federal funding will allow the program to kick off in grades six to eight, with some additional lessons in high school. Marla Abramowitz, prevention coordinator for the district, said a report released last month exposing drug use in schools highlighted the need for more prevention education, although the district has been preparing to start Lion’s Quest for the past two years.
The report by the Maricopa County Sheriff ’s Office revealed that dozens of current and former high school students in Scottsdale were buying and using drugs, including heroin.
President Bush’s 2006 proposed budget would eliminate two prevention programs that serve as major sources of funding for district prevention efforts.
Much of the district’s prevention budget is funded by Title IV Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities State Grants and School Dropout Prevention Programs — both programs the president aims to eliminate.
The programs provide the district with more than $330,000, Abramowitz said.
"If the Title funds disappear, what are we supposed to do?" she said. "Ultimately, my concern is, how do we sustain such an intense program? I don’t want to start something that will fall through five years down the road because no one is keeping up on it."
Lack of funding for Lion’s Quest is a problem the Gilbert Unified School District knows all too well, said Kathy Horlacher, the district’s K-12 prevention coordinator.
"Initially, our goal was to have it in third through seventh grade, but with budget cuts we do what we can just to keep third-grade teachers trained in it each year," Horlacher said. "I think it’s a really good program, but funding for any prevention curriculum is getting very difficult."
Much of Lion’s Quest consists of training teachers how to talk to children about healthy lifestyle choices. The program aims to foster four components: Character education, service learning, life skills and prevention messages.
The nationwide program is recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which was one reason a committee of parents and school officials chose it. The D.A.R.E. program was axed by the sheriff’s office in 2003 after national studies showed it was ineffective.
Scottsdale district officials hope to introduce Lion’s Quest to one or two additional grade levels each year. Elementary students would receive two lessons a week, while older students would receive lessons incorporated with other curriculum — for example, a student in a language arts class might write a report about drugs.
The district is tapping local sources for more money to fully fund the program.
The Scottsdale Police Department plans to give the school district $40,000 in start-up money for Lion’s Quest, and to follow that up with $10,000 each year, said Lt. Frank O’Halloran.
Scottsdale annually gives approximately $220,000 for other substance prevention efforts, including contracting with Scottsdale Prevention Institute and Community Bridges to provide services to students and their families such as drug counseling.
Phoenix City Council member Greg Stanton has also told Baracy he wants the council to help fund Scottsdale prevention efforts.
Abramowitz said she hopes the community will step up to help, even by donating small things such as T-shirts and other incentives that she currently does not have money to buy.