Royal Oak Daily Tribune: Levin: Anti-drug programs threatened

Mar 24, 2006

By Christy Strawser

 Staff Writer

FERNDALE South Oakland County could lose thousands of dollars in government money earmarked to keep kids off drugs.

That was the message U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, brought to Ferndale High School Thursday when he hosted a meeting where teens were invited to discuss the importance of anti-drug efforts.

The congressman said he was impressed with the teens' depth of understanding, especially an eighth-grader who remarked "if you don't start, you won't be addicted," and a teen boy from a troubled family who said anti-drug programs at his school helped him stay on the straight and narrow.

"They were moving and articulate; what was really impressive was having students talk about how great it is to have people they can talk to in their schools," said Stephanie Hall, Ferndale schools spokeswoman. "It was very cool."

Levin called the meeting because he said the administration's proposed 2007 federal budget eliminates Safe and Drug Free Schools grants to states. The budget would cut $346.5 million in drug fighting aid to communities across the country, including $12.8 million in Michigan.

The grants provide assistance for drug and violence prevention and activities promoting the health and well being of students in elementary and secondary schools. As congressional committees begin to work on the 2007 budget, Levin is leading a bi-partisan effort in the House to restore funding.

"We've been working together to try to restore this funding," Levin said during a meeting at the Daily Tribune Thursday afternoon. "I remain very active in the anti-drug effort."

U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Township, serves on the Appropriations Committee. His staff said he supports reinstating the money, as do 88 other congressmen who signed a letter that Levin put together to ask committee chairs for labor and education for the funding.

The letter says the money is "currently used by 97 percent of the nation's school districts and serves more than 37 million youths a year."

About 20-25 middle and high school students attended the meeting in Ferndale, where they learned their school could lose $23,348 that was spent last year for peer mediation, Red Ribbon Week, and supports Students Against Destructive Decisions, Students Taking a New Direction, and the district's annual survey on drug and alcohol use among students.

"It would eliminate the funding for stipends that provide them with materials and advisers," Hall said. "A lot of different areas in the district would be affected. We use the information from the survey to target areas that need assistance in the district, so we're able to say 'This is what our students need'."

A different part of the federal budget, which is not in jeopardy, funds local anti-drug coalitions in Royal Oak, Clawson, Troy, Berkley, Oak Park and Huntington Woods. The Tri-Community Coalition was rocked last year when it lost a $100,000 federal grant it had used to pay for after-school programs to keep teens and pre-teens busy during after-school hours when working parents are away.

Director Judy Rubin said they're applying for the grant again and remain solid in the meantime.

"The TCC is as strong as ever a little shaken from the loss of that grant," she said, adding that Berkley schools gave the group a $25,000 grant to keep the after-school program.

"We are very grateful and so is the CAP after-school program," Rubin said.
As for the rest of local drug-free funding, Levin is confident that the state grants for anti-drug efforts have enough support the money will be reinstated by the time the next federal budget takes effect, in October, 2006.

"I think we'll stop the cut," Levin said.