School districts will face serious cuts in their substance abuse prevention programs if the Legislature doesn’t come up with more money this year, according to a new state report.
The extensive report looked into how public schools have used money from an extra dime-a-pack cigarette tax imposed in 1994 and a 5 percent wholesale tobacco tax. The money was earmarked for substance abuse prevention programs in schools, but later the Legislature decided to divert half of it to other uses, including county juvenile probation programs.
The study by the state Office of Performance Evaluations found that tobacco tax money now makes up 69 percent of the funding for substance abuse prevention programs in Idaho schools.
As the report was presented to legislators Thursday, state Department of Education official Tom Farley said, “It is absolutely wonderful that we have found a way to fund this at the state level. However, we could use more money.”
Most of the money is being spent on salaries, according to the report. From 1994 to 1997, the number of people working in substance abuse prevention in Idaho schools ballooned from 46 to 202. Sixty-two percent of those workers receive at least part of the funding for their salaries from the tobacco taxes.
When the Legislature split the money, there was extra in the account to keep schools at their previous funding level, $7 million, through this year. But next year, the tax will raise only $5 million for schools.
The Coeur d’Alene School District got $217,710 from the tax this year. If lawmakers don’t come up with another source of funds, the district will get just $151,959 next year.
Bonner County schools would see their share decline from $164,192 to $114,604. Lakeland School District would go from $61,028 to $42,597, and Post Falls schools would drop from $111,928 to $78,124.
The report said the Legislature may want to give districts more specific guidelines for how to spend the money.
Some funds are used for things such as ski trips or student council, but that fits within current guidelines for providing drug-free extra-curricular activities along with prevention-oriented instruction. Some schools are using the money to pay their school resource officers, police officers who work on campus.
The report also recommended that the state Department of Education look into ways to make the programs better-coordinated, particularly for small school districts that can’t afford to pay a full- or even half-time coordinator.
It said reporting requirements should be streamlined, so districts can more easily comply and the state can better collect information. The paperwork is so heavy that five of the six smallest districts in the state didn’t apply for funds this year, the report noted.
State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox told lawmakers, “I know that as we spend more time at this, we’re going to get better.” Rep. June Judd, D-St. Maries, said, “I think the extracurricular activities outside of class are probably very effective.” But she questioned whether such activities can be easily provided in rural districts, where children must take long bus rides to and from school.
Farley said the tobacco tax money has allowed districts to make that possible. “If they’re up there skiing with their role models, they’re not down on a corner smoking.”