July 13, 1999 -- Good morning. I am pleased to appear before the committee today on behalf of Secretary Riley. As you know, much work needs to be done to ensure that every child has the opportunity to attend a school that is safe, disciplined, and drug-free, and to learn the skills necessary to avoid alcohol and other drug use as well as to resolve conflict in a non-violent manner. We look forward to working closely with the Committee to ensure that the programs administered by ED help meet the needs of schools, communities, and families.
While the tragic shootings occurring in schools across the Nation in the past two years command our continued attention and concern, national data about the problems of school violence and drug use provide some encouraging signs.
For example, consider that:
Despite the tragic incidents that occurred in the last two years in Colorado, Oregon, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi, school-associated violent deaths remain extremely rare events. Furthermore, preliminary data from a joint ED/CDC prevention survey indicate that, even with the recent increase in the number of school incidents involving multiple homicides, the number of students who are homicide victims in schools has been gradually decreasing since ED and the CDC conducted its first School Associated Violent Death Study in 1996. The study conducted for the 1992-1993 and 1993-1994 school years, determined that:
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SDFSCA
Before I discuss the Administration's proposal for reauthorization of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA), I believe that it is important to provide some brief background information about the program's history and how it operates, and to identify some significant issues related to the program's administration.
The Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program was first authorized in 1986, as the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (DFSCA). The program was one of a number of prevention, treatment, and interdiction programs that Congress enacted that year in response to high rates of alcohol and other drug use rates among student populations, and the burgeoning crack epidemic as highlighted by the tragic death of basketball player Len Bias. The DFSCA made funds available to Governors and State and local educational agencies to implement drug prevention programs. Previously, ED had funded only technical assistance activities related to drug prevention, at a total of about $3 million annually.
State educational agencies (SEAs) and Governors received $200 million in fiscal year 1987, the first year of funding for the DFSCA. Funding increased steadily, peaking at $624 million in Fiscal Year 1992. While these appropriation levels are undeniable evidence of the concern and commitment of the Congress about the issue of adolescent drug use and violence, average per-pupil funding under the program has been in the range of $5 to $9.
In 1994, the SDFSCA was reauthorized as part of the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESEA). The most significant change was the authorization of violence prevention activities. This focus on school safety was based upon a growing awareness that some of our schools were not as safe as they should be, and that schools needed to expand the types of prevention and early intervention activities they were engaging in, if schools were to be safe, disciplined, and drug-free. Since many of the issues related to drug and violence prevention are interrelated, the revised SDFSCA was intended to have school districts develop integrated programs that addressed student "risk factors" that cut across alcohol and other drug use as well as violent behavior. It was assumed that while some school districts would develop programs that were specifically tailored to violence prevention, and some to drug prevention, most would use their SDFS funds to support programs and activities that addressed both issues.
Local educational agencies have responded to this broadened programmatic authority with an expansion in the types of programs they are implementing, addressing various aspects of safety and as well as drug prevention, such as drug prevention instruction, counseling, conflict resolution, peer mediation, violence prevention curricula, hate crime curricula, mentoring programs, after-school activities, truancy programs, anti-bullying programs, gang prevention programs, hiring of security officers, and installation of metal detectors.
The 1994 reauthorization also continued to focus responsibility for decision-making concerning program expenditures at the State and local levels. To improve program accountability, LEAs are now required to conduct needs assessments of their drug and violence problems, establish measurable goals for the programs they implement, and assess their progress toward meeting those goals. State educational agencies are also authorized to disapprove LEA applications for funds that they believe do not best meet the purposes of the SDFSCA.
HAVE THESE EFFORTS BEEN SUCCESSFUL?
A significant question that needs to be addressed as we consider reauthorization of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program is whether the strategies being implemented by school districts-many as a result of the expanded authority provided under the SDFS Program in 1994-have been effective. Does the program work? Are schools safer? Is there less alcohol and drug use because of this program?
Over the course of the past several years there has been much discussion about the program, including some criticism. For example, a 1998 report in the Los Angeles Times identified some examples of activities being implemented at the LEA level that are highly unlikely to produce demonstrable improvement in youth drug use or violence.
I would respond by saying that, while criticism of the program is warranted in some situations, it should not be generalized to the entire program. To gain a broader, more representative perspective, let's review a 1997 General Accounting Office study. Congress asked GAO to review several issues: accountability measures that the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act requires at the Federal, State and local levels; activities the Department of Education uses for overseeing State and local programs; how SEAs ensure local programs' compliance with the Act; and how Safe and Drug-Free funding is specifically used at the State and local levels. As part of this study, the GAO also investigated some specific allegations about misuse of program funds.
GAO's report, issued in October 1997 (Safe and Drug-Free Schools: Balancing Accountability With State and Local Flexibility), stated that while there was a problem in data collection ("the lack of uniform information on program activities and effectiveness may, however, create a problem for federal oversight), they found that States and localities were delivering a wide range of services, had established accountability mechanisms, and "appear to be operating in ways consistent with the act." (pg26) The report also found that the allegations concerning inappropriate uses of program funds had been appropriately examined and resolved by ED or State educational agencies.
A 1998 study by ED's Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the program looked at State and local school district processes for developing measurable goals, allocation of funds to local school districts, whether local school district expenditures were supported by and consistent with approved plans, and whether the program places an administrative burden on States and districts. OIG staff visited four States and six local school districts in each of those States. Based on the results of those site visits, OIG concluded that:
The program's current administrative framework also provides significant challenges to Federal, State and local administrators. The Secretary is committed to implementing Federal education programs in a manner that effectively balances State and local flexibility with accountability for program results. This approach is consistent with our promulgation of the SDFS Principles of Effectiveness last year. These Principles require SDFSCA subgrant recipients to use objective data to identify their needs, establish measurable goals for their programs, implement programs of demonstrated effectiveness, and assess their progress toward achieving their State goals. The Principles seek to preserve flexibility and minimize burden for local school officials while putting in place a simple framework that focuses on high-quality programs and results. Through this action, States and school districts are required to carry our activities consistent with the principles; operating programs that the research has shown to be effective is not an optional use of program funds.
MAJOR ISSUES REGARDING THE ADMINISTRATION, MANAGEMENT, AND OPERATION OF THE SAFE AND DRUG-FREE SCHOOLS PROGRAM
We believe that many aspects of the Department's strategy to help students achieve and meet high educational standards are a critically important part of comprehensive efforts to ensure that students are safe, healthy, and drug-free, and many activities that will help achieve this goal are included in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization proposal.
Based on evaluation studies, State performance reports, surveys of local school districts, and monitoring and other administrative activities, we have identified a number of significant areas of concern regarding the SDFSCA, and the following information focuses most heavily on that program. We have carefully considered these issues and developed our reauthorization proposal to respond directly to the challenges this program is facing. We believe that with changes proposed in the reauthorization bill, we can make schools safer, and help further reduce rates of alcohol and drug use among students. The major issues we identified and the strategies we propose to address those issues include:
Funds are awarded in amounts too small to permit the implementation of comprehensive, research-based programs.
Currently, approximately 97 percent of all school districts receive Safe and Drug-Free Schools funds. Funds are awarded on a formula basis to all school districts that complete an application for funding. While this permits most school districts to receive some funding for drug and violence prevention initiatives, it dilutes funding to such a degree that a majority of school districts do not receive enough funds to develop and implement the types of comprehensive efforts that are necessary to combat drug use and violent behavior effectively. Fifty-nine percent of all school districts receiving SDFSCA funding receive less than $10,000. This amount is inadequate to develop comprehensive approaches needed to prevent youth drug use and violence. As a result, school districts are likely to implement the kinds of prevention programs they can afford, not the ones that their students deserve.
Response: The Administration is proposing that SDFSCA funds be awarded competitively within States. Our proposal would require a State educational agency to award funds to no more than half of its local educational agencies, based upon need and quality of application. However, we recognize that in some States more than half of LEAs may be implementing high-quality, effective programs; in these situations States would permitted to funds more LEAs if they provide justification.
This allocation proposal may be the most contentious and difficult in the reauthorization proposal, because it means that some districts that have been participating in the program would not continue to receive funding. While we recognize that some disruption would be involved in not awarding funds to every school district, we believe that targeting funds to those districts most in need, and requiring districts to use their funds for programs and strategies of proven effectiveness, is the strategy most likely to produce demonstrable success for our children, schools and communities. Continuing the current practice of spreading funding so broadly is unlikely to result in the kinds of program improvements that need to be made.
Our reauthorization proposal also authorizes additional funding for an enhanced training and technical assistance capacity at the State level, which would serve all of the State's LEAs, not just those receiving SDFSCA grant awards. Recognizing that some LEAs with the most significant drug and violence prevention problems may lack the capacity to develop high-quality plans for addressing these issues, SEAs would be authorized to use up to 10 percent of their funding to make non-competitive grants based solely on need. SEAs would be required to provide additional support to LEAs receiving these awards to ensure that they develop the capacity to submit competitive applications for funding in the future.
Funds often used to support programs and activities that are not effective.
Another criticism of the SDFSCA State Grants program is that LEAs have selected, and SEAs have approved, programs and strategies that are not likely to reduce drug use or violence. We believe that this problem is closely related to the relatively modest size of grants received by the majority of school districts. The problem is exacerbated because the volume of research related to effective drug use and violence prevention programs is not as extensive as we might wish and the results of the existing research have not been readily available to local practitioners. Because many States are unable to devote even one full-time staff member to administering the program, the capacity to provide effective technical assistance to local school districts is also limited. When these factors are combined with the pressure to focus limited instructional time on activities designed to improve student achievement on State assessments, it is not surprising that local officials don't always select comprehensive, research-based programs and strategies.
Response: ED recognizes that decisions regarding what programs to select properly belong at the local level. However, we also recognize that the flexibility to select programs must be balanced with a focus on results. Accordingly, we are proposing that the Principles of Effectiveness, currently established under our rule-making authority, be codified as part of the SDFS reauthorization. The principles would require SEAs, LEAs, and Governors receiving SDFS funds to do four things: conduct an assessment of their alcohol, drug, and violence prevention problems; set measurable goals and objectives; use their SDFS funds for research-based programs; and periodically conduct evaluations to ensure that their goals and objectives are being met. Incorporating the principles into the legislation coupled with requirements to target resources on areas of demonstrated need, establish results-based performance measures, and publicly report progress toward meeting the State's performance measures will help ensure that SDFS funds are used to support only sound effective alcohol, drug, and violence prevention and early intervention programs.
An added benefit of our proposal to award funds competitively is that it would give States greater freedom to guide local choices and focus support on activities that have a clear and direct relationship to drug and violence prevention. Our proposal would also require that local school districts develop comprehensive school safety plans as part of their application for an SDFSCA grant.
As mentioned earlier, the reauthorization proposal also would provide additional resources to States to help their local school districts and communities develop the skills and capacity needed to ensure that they implement programs and activities that are most likely to produce real results.
The State and Local Educational Agency program and Governor's program are focused on achieving different purposes.
The Safe and Drug Free Schools program is the only program at ED that provides grants to the Governors of each State. Twenty percent of each State's allocation is awarded to the Governor. Under current law, these funds are to be used to support programs for children and youth who are not normally served by State or local educational agencies, or populations that need special services or additional resources (such as preschoolers, youth in juvenile detention facilities, runaway or homeless children and youth, pregnant and parenting teenagers, and school dropouts.)
As a result, the Governor's program has not always been well coordinated with the State Educational Agency's program. Funds from one program have not been used to support or buttress the efforts of the other program; instead, they have frequently operated as separate activities. Funds from the Governor's program are also more likely to duplicate the efforts of some other Federal programs that are focused on providing support for drug or violence prevention for juvenile offenders, residents of public housing authorities, and out-of-school youth.
Response: To ensure that the two programs-the SEA and the Governor's program-are both focused on the creation of safe, disciplined and drug-free learning environments, we are proposing that the Governor's funds be used to support community efforts that "directly complement the efforts of local educational agencies to foster drug-free, safe, and orderly learning environments in and around schools." To be eligible for a grant from the Governor's program, an applicant would provide an explanation of how grant activities will complement or support the efforts of one or more local educational agencies or schools within a local educational agency to provide a drug-free, safe, and orderly environment.
Our proposal also requires the SEA and Governor to jointly use amounts reserved for State-level activities (not less than 10 percent of each allocation) to plan, develop, and implement capacity-building, technical assistance, and accountability activities that are designed to support the effective implementation of local drug and violence prevention activities throughout the State and that promote program accountability and improvement. Governors and State educational agencies would also submit a joint application to the Department of Education for SDFSCA funds. We feel that these actions will result in a Governors Program that is more directly linked to the efforts of the State Educational Agency, concentrates resources on the task of creating safe, disciplined, and drug-free learning environments, and produces more comprehensive drug and violence programs that effectively link the efforts of schools districts with the efforts of their communities.
Youth expelled for bringing firearms to school can be returned without any mental health assessment.
Each year thousands of youth are expelled for bringing a firearm to school, (in the 1996-1997 school year 6,093 students were expelled). The Gun-Free Schools Act requires that schools expel for one year those students and refer them to appropriate law enforcement authorities. While requiring expulsion for one year, the Gun-Free Schools Act permits youths that are expelled for possession of a firearm to be educated in an alternative placement. It also permits LEA officials to modify the expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.
Response: We believe that the lives of teachers and other students are being unnecessarily jeopardized unless we require that students who carry firearms to schools undergo a thorough mental health assessment. Our reauthorization proposal for the Gun-Free Schools Act would require that any student who possesses a firearm at school be referred to the criminal justice or juvenile justice system (as in current law), and also be "referred to a mental health professional for assessment as to whether he or she poses an imminent threat of harm to himself, herself, or others and needs appropriate mental health services before readmission to school." We are also proposing that any student "who has been determined by a mental health professional to pose an imminent threat of harm to himself, herself, or others receive appropriate mental health services before being permitted to return to school." Provisions in Title XI of our reauthorization proposal would also require school districts to provide for appropriate supervision, counseling, and educational services to students who are suspended or expelled from school.
There is an excellent example of how this process can work, currently operating in the Boston Public Schools. Boston Public Schools currently require that all students caught carrying a gun or other weapon to school be referred to the Boston Public Schools Counseling and Intervention Center for a mental health and education assessment. Students are not returned to their school until a complete assessment of their needs has been made and a plan developed to support the student.
Although the public is extremely concerned about school violence and youth drug use, information about the nature and extent of both problems, and the prevention activities being implemented to address them, are not widely available.
Most of the information the public receives about its schools and students comes from press reports. While the issues of school violence and youth drug use have received a tremendous amount of news and other media coverage, many of these stories do not paint an accurate or comprehensive picture of local schools or of student behavior in our individual communities.
Response: ED is proposing that school safety, alcohol, and drug-related issues, including "the incidence of school violence and drug and alcohol abuse and the number of instances in which a student has possessed a firearm at school," be included in annual State-level Report Cards, District Report Cards, and School Report Cards. ED believes that sharing consistent and accurate information with the public about alcohol and drug use and violent incidents among students will improve the public's understanding of the problems confronting schools and students, encourage increased parental and community involvement, and provide information that can be used to assess progress toward meeting State, LEA, and school drug and violence prevention goals. When the news is good, parents and community members can take some comfort. And when serious incidents occur, a well-informed public will be in a better position to help bring about positive changes for their schools and to make appropriate decisions regarding children's well being.
School districts are not fully prepared to respond to a major crisis.
It has become increasingly clear that crises that affect schools, students, and their families do occur, often times in the least likely times and places, and that schools are not prepared to deal with the aftermath of such events. Whether it is shootings such as those that occurred in Littleton, Colorado; Springfield, Oregon; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Pearl, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky, or multiple deaths that occurred as a result of drug overdoses such as those that occurred in Orange, County Florida, schools are called upon to immediately reassure students, teachers, administrators, and family members that they will be safe and secure in school, and to provide longer-term services to those students, teachers, and administrators who are struggling to cope with the tragedy. Often school districts lack the financial and human resources to deal with the consequences of such a tragedy and, as a result, provide inadequate or even no services. Not dealing with the consequences of these tragedies can result in poor academic performance, and high rates of absenteeism, disruption, and depression.
Response: Our proposal would authorize a program that would provide support for short- and longer-term services to local school districts in which the learning environment has been disrupted due to a violent or traumatic crisis. Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) would provide assistance to school personnel in assessing a crisis situation, providing mental health crisis counseling, and maintaining increased school security. Funds could also be used to support training and technical assistance for State and local educational agencies, mental health agencies, law enforcement agencies, and communities to enhance their capacity to develop and implement crisis intervention plans, as well as to identify and disseminate the best practices of school and community-related plans for responding to crises.
The issues of school safety and youth drug prevention do not exist in isolation. To ensure safe and orderly learning environments, we must also attend to other important issues related to academic achievement and school climate. Several other ED initiatives are vital to our prevention efforts. Class size reduction, school construction, high school reform, GEAR UP, character education and Elementary and Secondary Education Act programs that focus on high standards and quality teaching all play a role in creating a school experience for our Nation's children that will help them grow and thrive.
Over the past several years we have become increasingly aware of the fact that creating safe, disciplined, and drug-free learning environments and keeping students drug-free is not a simple process and it cannot be done without the help and support of the entire community, including students and their parents, law enforcement, businesses, clergy, youth-serving organizations, and the health and mental health communities. During the past year we have worked with the Departments of Health and Human Services and Justice to develop a model that reflects this comprehensive, collaborative approach to the creation of safe schools and healthy students.
The Safe Schools-Healthy Students Initiative is designed to provide students with comprehensive, integrated services designed to promote healthy childhood development. The three departments combined have agreed to contribute nearly $300 million over a three-year period toward the initiative, with an additional $80 million available from the Office of Community Oriented Policing at the US Department of Justice for the hiring of school-based law enforcement officers. Through a streamlined, single application process, successful applicants will receive support from the collaborating agencies for up to three years. Awards under this initiative will range from $3 million per year for urban districts to $2 million for suburban and $1 million for rural/tribal districts.
The Safe Schools-Healthy Students Initiative is designed to help communities integrate existing and new services and activities into a comprehensive approach to prevention activities. This comprehensive approach will respond to community needs and reflect an overall vision for the community. Through an integrated approach, these services and activities will help young people develop the social skills and emotional resilience necessary to avoid drug use and violent behavior and establish a school environment that is safe, disciplined, and alcohol and drug free.
Applications for this initiative were due on June 1, 1999. Interest in this initiative has been overwhelming, with approximately 450 applications received from local educational agencies. We anticipate making awards to approximately 50 communities. Successful applicants will be announced by August 31, 1999.
I believe that this model holds considerable progress and exemplifies our vision for prevention programming in our country. We believe that future success in creating safe school environments is contingent upon our ability to forge successful linkages at all levels -- local, State, and Federal, as well as our ability to create comprehensive strategies that respond to the overall needs of the community.
Thank you again for this opportunity to testify. I would be happy to answer your questions.