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Educators Plead to Save Feds’ Only School-Based Anti-Drug Program

May 19, 1995

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) _ In Room 127 at Glasgow Middle School, students are learning how to avoid getting high or getting violent.

``These kids are on the fringe of getting involved in things they shouldn’t be involved in,″ says school counselor Nina Pitkin. ``They’re troubled kids, but we’re showing them how to deal with problems.″

On Thursday, Education Secretary Richard Riley and Lee P. Brown, the White House drug policy director, used the classroom as a backdrop to protest proposed budget cuts that could end the nine-week program for troubled children, the only federally funded school-based anti-drug program.

Under a $16.4 billion deficit-reduction bill now before Congress, the national Drug Free School program would lose $230 million of its $482 million funding this year. President Clinton has threatened to veto the bill.

Republicans targeted the program for cuts after reports of misused grants. During a congressional hearing last month, lawmakers heard of cases such as one in Michigan where anti-drug money paid for bicycle pumps, toothbrushes and a sex education consultant.

At Glasgow, the ``Positive Life Choices″ class gets part of a $5,000 grant under the Drug Free School program.

Student Marien Gomez, 13, said the class ``makes you stop and think.″

``There’s lots of things out there to deal with and this class gives us a place to talk about it,″ she said.

Brown said he is distressed that Congress is thinking of reducing the program at a time when drug use has risen up among youths.

``It’s like cutting our military budget during a time of war,″ said Brown. ``It’s hypocritical and it’s outrageous.″

Riley decried the political dueling between Republicans and Democrats, which he said could hurt America’s children and their future.

``The sad reality is, it’s a game,″ he said. ``It’s people sitting in a smoke-filled room saying, `Let’s cut this and let’s cut that.‴

David Smith, Glasgow’s principal, said a funding cut could end the program that takes troubled children who have leadership qualities and teaches them how to deal with a world filled with drugs and violence.

``One of our goals is to take kids and show them how to go in a positive direction rather than a negative direction,″ Smith said.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, a House panel debated Clinton’s new national service program, which also could be cut under the deficit-reduction bill.

Critics said the program has noble goals but duplicates other volunteer organizations, is inefficient and a waste of tax money. AmeriCorps got $575 million this year.

Much of AmeriCorps’ money goes to administrative costs, asserted Allyson Tucker of the conservative Heritage Foundation, making it ``nothing more than another expensive government jobs program.″

But Eli Segal, whose Corporation for National and Community Service oversees AmeriCorps, said private charities say ``they cannot do it alone″ as lawmakers shift more responsibility for social programs to them.

Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of a Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee, called the hearing to support AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps’ 20,000 participants work in communities for $6,200 in salary and living expenses and $4,725 for college if they complete a nine-month tour of duty.

They help immunize children, screen for lead poisoning, tutor children, plant trees, clean up rivers, create neighborhood watch groups and counsel crime victims. They also train volunteers.

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