WASHINGTON – Maryland school violence and drug-prevention programs could lose $1.3 million if temporary federal funding cuts are extended for the remainder of the fiscal year, according to a report released Friday.
Under a federal funding measure that expires March 15, the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program was cut 25 percent from last year’s figure.
If Congress approves that cut for the rest of the fiscal year, schools nationwide could lose almost $108 million.
Speaking at a news conference, Education Secretary Richard Riley called the reductions “cuts that will not heal.”
Republicans argue that the program cuts are not an attempt to minimize the importance of substance-abuse prevention, but to avoid redundant spending.
“The bill that passed the House already has a line-item substance abuse block grant for over $1 billion that is to be used for the same purpose,” said a spokesman for Rep. John Porter, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that deals with education issues.
“We don’t need a separate individual program called Safe and Drug-Free Schools,” said the spokesman, David Kohn.
In Maryland, money from the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program is primarily used to train staff in such student health issues as substance abuse prevention and non-violent conflict resolution, said Ron Peiffer, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.
Maryland’s 1,200 public schools would not see existing programs eliminated, but available staff and resources could be reduced, Peiffer said.
“We all know there is a drug problem in the United States and Maryland is certainly not immune,” said Betsy Gallun, supervisor of the drug education program in Prince George’s County.
“It is extremely critical that programs such as drug- prevention curriculum development and staff training not be cut back,” Gallun said.
Montgomery County’s school-community action teams, which allow students to perform service projects, are also funded through the program.
“We will continue to run our programs as we have been doing, but we just will not be able to reach as many people,” said Russell Henke, Montgomery County’s coordinator of health education.
Lu Morrissey, chief of Maryland’s Safe Learning Environment Initiatives, sees a silver lining in Congress’s proposed cuts.
“It’s never good to lose the funding,” said Morrissey. “But it might help local governments realize where they need to focus their attention as a community.” -30-