WASHINGTON – All substance abuse prevention programs in Montgomery County schools would be wiped out and Prince George’s County efforts would be badly weakened if Congress eliminates federal funds for a drug-free schools program, program directors said.
“We would lose it all,” said Rita Rumbaugh, Montgomery County coordinator of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Program. “We would have no prevention programs for alcohol and other drugs.”
“I think the whole drug-free message is jeopardized by what the House is doing,” said Betsy Gallan, director of the Prince George’s program.
The House approved a budget-cutting bill March 16, on a 227- 200 vote, which would strip the program of its $482 million.
On April 6, the Senate voted 99-0 for an amended version of the bill, which maintained the drug program’s current level of funding.
The two versions are now headed for a House-Senate conference committee, where delegations from both houses will meet to iron out differences.
Mary Anne Leary, spokeswoman for Rep. Constance Morella, R- Montgomery, said the bill contained some “tough choices.” She said Morella supported it as a whole, but not every part.
“I think she would have voted to keep the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program,” Leary said.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said in a statement that efforts toward safe and drug-free schools can be funded through other sources.
Jim Copple, national director of the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, said members of his 6,000-member organization are lobbying congressmen to preserve the program’s funds.
The program, supporters say, aims to prevent substance abuse among students and to help those who use alcohol and illegal drugs. This is accomplished in the schools primarily through instructional programs about drugs and counseling services.
In Montgomery County, where the program serves 117,000 students at 184 public schools, student assistance teams are trained to intervene when drug and alcohol abuse becomes a problem, Rumbaugh said. The Montgomery program also helps to operate two schools, Phoenix One in Silver Spring and Phoenix Two in Gaithersburg, for students recovering from substance abuse.
All funding for the Montgomery County program comes from the federal government, Rumbaugh said.
“I think it is effective,” said Robert Bougham, a 14-year- old sophomore at Damascus High School. “It just gave me the facts … and let me make my own decisions.”
Bougham, who said he has never used drugs, said he benefits most from the doctors, police officers and former drug users who speak to him and his classmates once a month about their firsthand experiences with the drug epidemic.
All 116,000 Prince George’s County public school students benefit from the instructional programs, Gallan said.
In addition, a code of conduct stipulates that any student who is caught with drugs or alcohol in school must receive assessment and counseling through the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program before returning to classes.
Gallan said that more than 200 students received the assessment and counseling last year.
Unlike the Montgomery County program, the effort in Prince George’s would survive if Congress eliminated the federal grant, Gallan said.
However, since more than 90 percent of the program’s budget comes from the grant and the remainder from the county school system, only a few parts of the program would continue, she said.
Gallan added that the staff in her office “wouldn’t exist anymore” if Congress removes funding.