A Closer Look: Funding Cuts Threaten Conditions for Learning

January 20, 2012

It’s no secret that factors outside of the classroom can play a major role in a student’s chances of academic success. While effective schools play a central role in ensuring results, they may not be enough to guarantee high levels of scholastic achievement for all youth.

That's what makes school climate interventions so important, and recent federal funding decisions such a big concern.

Federal restructuring of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools & Communities program threatens to undermine state programs and critical data collection.

With a complex set of challenges facing the nation’s youth, it is more important than ever for us to address alarming trends related to crime, violence, discipline, safety and health in schools across the country.  Responding to this need, the federal government has acknowledged the importance of providing schools with resources to implement proven programs that increase the number of students:

  • who are safe and not victims of bullying or other violence
  • who are mentally and physically healthy
  • who have strong social and emotional skills
  • who refrain from alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, and
  • who report caring and supportive relationships with adults in their families, schools and the community

Programs that improve these "conditions for learning" are an essential component of our national strategy aimed at promoting excellence and innovation in the classroom and closing the achievement gap.  These programs have been shown to improve student achievement, make schools and communities safer, save tax dollars, allow for state and local flexibility, empower parents and guardians with additional information about their child’s education and encourage community members to play an active role in school success.

For years, schools and states supported these types of programs through the federal Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities grant program. The program provided direct support to 97 percent of the nation’s school districts and served more than 37 million students each year. 

However, in fiscal year 2010, Congress completely eliminated this $500 million funding stream and replaced it with the Safe and Successful Schools (S3) program, a $40 million competitive grant program that supports select schools in only 11 states.  As a result, schools across the country are cutting programs and eliminating staff that was focused on health, safety and drug and violence prevention.  States are also losing the staff and infrastructure that is needed to collect state-wide data and provide leadership on building schools that are safe, healthy, engaging and supportive.

What's an advocate to do?

Students, advocates, researchers and others concerned about school quality take notice.

In the short term, we can work to ensure that Congress continues to fund programs found in the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS) at the U.S. Department of Education.  In addition to S3, other important programs within OSHS that improve conditions for learning include the Carol White Physical Education Program (PEP) and the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program

In the long term, advocates can support an ESEA reauthorization bill that contains incentives and funding to ensure that every school in the country is able to effectively assess and measure school climate and implement proven strategies to continuously improve the teaching and learning environment (see S. 919, the Successful, Safe and Healthy Students Act, as an example).

We can't afford to lose ground on this. The future of our schools, students and our nation is at stake.

Hayling Price is policy director with the National Collaboration for Youth.

Jon Terry leads Capitol Youth Strategies, whose clients include the Conditions for Learning Coalition, an advocacy coalition with a goal to increase federal investments in proven programs that improve conditions for learning through measurement and program implementation, so that all students have the opportunity to achieve academic success.

Hayling Price and Jon Terry