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PRELIMINARY REPORT TO THE SECRETARY
ON THE STATE GRANTS PROGRAM
September 8, 2006

The Work of the Committee

The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to provide advice to the Secretary related to improving the Title IV programs of the Department carried out by the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. Specifically, the Committee is charged with assessing three areas: (1) the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities State Grant Program, (2) the Unsafe Schools Option and (3) the data requirements of No Child Left Behind.

The Committee is made up of nineteen members, including employees of Federal agencies, state and local government representatives and expert practitioners in the fields of substance abuse and violence prevention. The Committee Chairman is Dr. David Long, Superintendent of Riverside County Public Schools in California.

The Committee is dedicated to, in the Secretary’s words, playing "a vital role" in "ensuring that our students have safe and drug-free schools." To this end, the Committee is in the midst of a process of hearings and consultations culminating in a report to the Secretary in 2007. The Committee’s work is designed to ensure the Committee addresses its mandate in a structured way and formulates recommendations that will help the Department make improvements in the focus areas.

Initial Observations and Items for Committee Scrutiny

Based on Committee discussion and hearings held August 21-22, 2006, the Committee has identified general observations that can guide its deliberations and analysis. The Committee has also identified issues in need of further scrutiny and recommendations.

At the August meeting, the Committee heard testimony from four panels of educators, practitioners, and academic experts. This testimony was largely addressed to the State Grant Program. Based on this testimony and its own discussions, the Committee noted that no one has suggested the program be done away with and that most of the presenters emphasized the importance of the program as a source of universal funding for the creation of safe and drug-free schools.

The Committee also notes that safe and drug-free schools are the foundation of, and precursor to, achievement and proficiency. If students are using drugs or alcohol (or are surrounded by others that do) or are unable to attend school or learn because of threats to their personal safety (or to their school), there is a greatly diminished opportunity for them to learn what they are in school to learn. The Committee also notes that problems related to safety and drug and alcohol use are related to one another.

The Committee members heard witnesses say that the Grant Program is working and others who said that it suffers from significant problems that hamper its effectiveness. Based on this testimony and Committee interaction, the following areas require further scrutiny:

  • Leveraging grant money through community and other partnerships.
  • Determining the primary purpose of the program and defining "safe."
  • Allocating grant funds.
  • Closing the gap between research and practice.
  • Evaluating funded programs.

The Committee heard that the primary purpose of the grant program is supporting state and local efforts to ensure safe and drug free schools but that there is a possibility for tension between school efforts to discourage substance use and its (often expensive) need to provide for responses to other safety concerns like terrorism and natural disasters. The Committee also noted some confusion and disagreement about the possibility that administrators and educators may be spread too thin in responding to all of the possible threats to school safety. This problem is related to concerns that the grant moneys may be similarly spread too thin. There is also disagreement about the way that grant funds should be allocated. Many state and local education agencies and Committee members stressed the value of providing at least some money to each local education agency (LEA) but others expressed concerns that the money available is not enough to make a difference for many of these LEAs.

Most witnesses and Committee members agreed that an effort to promote the leverage of grant funds through community and other partnerships although the nature of such an effort needs more discussion. Committee members discussed the possibility of LEAs securing assistance through matching funds provided through local businesses, opportunities to secure in-kind contributions of resources or volunteer time, and other possibilities. The Committee also noted concerns about asking local educators to spend time on securing such partnerships.

Another area of wide agreement was the need to ensure that existing gaps between research and actual practices of LEAs are closed. The Committee heard conflicting testimony about the possibility of identifying strategies used in prevention programs rather than using specific evidence-based programs in their entirety. Committee members and witnesses also expressed concerns about the funding available for these efforts and the need to determine the extent of the current gap between research and practice.

The presentations to the Committee demonstrated that many state and local programs are very serious about evaluation. The testimony also suggested that such evaluation can be expensive and that some need assistance in the development of appropriate evaluation criteria. The possibility of uniform evaluation indicators across the program was also a consistent theme.

Preliminary Recommendations

Related to the areas of scrutiny, the Committee has identified a number of possible recommendations that can be considered in future Committee deliberations. It should be stressed that these are preliminary and still need further study and discussion. It should also be noted that other fruitful recommendations can be expected to emerge in the course of the Committee’s work.

In regards to the focus of the program, the Committee has heard recommendations that (1) the definition of "safe" for purposes of the Grant Program be interpersonal safety, focused on issues related to alcohol and drug use, and violence (2) the Committee suggest improved coordination of the various Federal resources related to school safety (such as those provided by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency), and (3) the Department identify key indicators of safety (beyond those identified by No Child Left Behind) to be reported on by all grant recipients.

Related to funding, the Committee will consider (1) appropriate monitoring of existing use of grant funds, (2) the possibility of developing a competitive process that allows a more limited set of LEAs to get larger grants (based on the belief that funding is spread too thinly to do much good in some areas), (3) alternatively, a smaller number of grants could go to schools selected based on high prevalence of specified issues related to substance use and safety, (4) provide more money to grantees on condition that the local educational agency demonstrate school effort and utilization of research-based programs, and (5) the countervailing argument that the only challenge related to funding is the need for more funds to be available with a strong emphasis on continued availability of funds to each LEA.

In terms of partnering options, the Committee may consider (1) suggesting research into the extent of partnering, (2) the possibility of requiring a community match of grant funds (either from the twenty percent of grant funds that go to the state education agency, or as monetary or in-kind contributions), (3) an initiative to foster ongoing partnerships between LEAs and research groups as well as public health and safety agencies, and (4) providing technical assistance to grantees for development of partnerships.

To address the gap between research and practice, the Committee will look at (1) the feasibility of encouraging LEAs to adopt strategies common to prevention programs rather than a specific program in its entirety, as well as issues of tailoring of programs to meet local needs, and (2) encouraging study of the ways in which agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and others, have addressed this concern.

In regard to effective evaluation, the Committee can (1) explore the possibility of having the Department develop a set of questions that can be used by local and state educational association associations in their evaluation efforts, (2) borrowing CDC (or other agency) standards of evaluation, (3) recommending study of the potential impact of the grant program on academic outcomes, and (4) allowing concurrent use of the evaluation criteria from other programs (such as the Strategic Prevention Framework from SAMHSA or the Drug Free Communities Act) to avoid duplication of various evaluation reports required of grantees.

Next Steps

The Committee’s next focus group meeting is scheduled for October 23-24, 2006 and will be held at the office of the Department of Education. Similar meetings will follow in January and March of 2007. The Committee has also scheduled five conference calls to provide opportunities for Committee discussion and analysis. The process will culminate in a final report, scheduled to be presented to the Secretary on June 12, 2007.

The Committee takes very seriously its mandate to be of assistance to the Department of Education in its important work related to ensuring safe and drug free schools and communities. We appreciate the trust of Secretary Spellings and will work to produce a report that is helpful and pertinent.


 
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Last Modified: 10/11/2006