As summer break winds to an end, and another school year begins, many unsuspecting 5th graders and junior high students across the country will get their first introduction to drugs. No, it won’t be on the playground or the back of the bus, but as a part of their classroom curriculum, as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (DARE) kicks off its 31st year in existence.
Over three decades of War on Drugs propaganda comes at a cost, however. “Just Say No” coloring books and foil badge stickers ain’t free you know! With schools in disrepair, teachers being laid off, and art, music, and extra-curricular activities being defunded, many schools are deciding that their books may be more easily balanced without DARE in the budget.
In Ohio, they are down to 220 DARE officers state-wide, drastically lower than their one-time high of 600 officers.
Ohio State University professor Rick Petosa sees this as a good thing. After researching a generation’s worth of data on the program, he concludes, “If you look at it strictly from its impact on drug use, it has little to no drug impact”.
In Columbus, the state’s capitol, all city schools have dropped the DARE program. Five more suburban school districts have followed their lead, so far.
Instead, these schools have school counselors to help students, and in some cases, even on-campus police officers that they can get answers from. High school students in these areas will be educated on the dangers of drugs in an already-required health class. Imagine that.
A similar movement is happening in Connecticut, where school districts have begun to weigh the cost-benefit analysis of the DARE program in their budgets, in many cases finding that they can more effectively allocate what funds they still have available.
Meridan city schools will be eliminating the program this year, opting for on-campus police officers to assist in the education of students.
Meridan Police Department spokesman Jeffry Cossette says that the DARE program has become redundant material due to evolving health class curriculums. Not to mention, after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook, many parents and teachers welcome the full time security over the part time propaganda.
Of course, the 26-year director of the Meridan DARE program, a man named Thomas Cirillo (now retired) sees the omission of the program as a big mistake on the part of the schools. “How do you measure success?” Cirillo asked a reporter from the local Record-Journal. “Two years after I retired, I’ve had adults and kids coming to me telling me how great the program was. The chief, the city council, the city manager, they don’t see that. How many have ever been to a DARE graduation?”
There is no doubt that Mr. Cirillo’s heart is in the right place, but Ohio and Connecticut are not alone.
A 2012 study pulled data from 32 states across the country, and found that 60% of school districts had eliminated the DARE program in a trend that has grown since the mid-2000s.
That leads to teachers gaining added classroom time that is now being spent on such novel ideas as math, science, history, and the arts. Subjects that help students reach their actual graduation.
Critics rightfully point out that the program still costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars each year – untold billions of dollars over the lifetime of the program.
David Hansen, PhD notes that according to “the congressional General Accounting Office (GAO), the U.S. Surgeon General, the National Academy of Sciences, and the U.S. Department of Education”, the DARE program has actually been counter-productive – as in, worse than doing nothing at all.
Back in Ohio, Westerville schools decided to keep the DARE program active for 5th graders and middle school students. Their two DARE officers pull a $77,000 annual salary, which is paid for by the Westerville Police Department.
Even if their motivation comes from a good place, police departments are facing the same budget shortfalls that our schools are, and it is likely only a matter of time before Westerville PD finds a better use for that cash as well.