By Zach Schalk
February 3, 2011 1:10 PM
Budget cuts have become a theme of sorts on this blog, with states nationwide looking towards their various corrections systems as fertile ground for slashing wasteful spending. As Youth Today reports, the number of states with stand-alone juvenile justice agencies is shrinking—with states combining government offices and accounting for a decrease in locked up juvenile offenders since the 1990’s. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is facing a tough political fight in his effort to reform the state’s sprawling corrections system, and it remains to be seen what his final plan for the future of New York lock ups will look like. On the West Coast, Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pursue his plans to cede control of juvenile centers from the state to the county, as mentioned in our last blog post, despite some controversy over the matter.
While cost cutting has ruled the public debate in recent months, some states are spending money on programs that aim to prevent kids from getting on the path to delinquency in the first place. A new program being tested in South Carolina called “Diplomas Now” is geared towards keeping kids from dropping out as ninth graders. (More information on the program can be found here) The experiment is taking place in one of the state’s most notorious “dropout factories”—C.A. Johnson in Columbia—and while the program is only months old, the results have been impressive. A school that normally looses around 15 ninth graders over Christmas break, according to the principal, has thus far retained all of the grade’s 97 students.
The experiment in South Carolina is one of only 19 programs being tested nationwide. However, Bob Balfanz, who developed the concept behind “Diplomas Now” after years of study with colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, just won a $36 million dollar grant from the Federal government to expand into 60 more high dropout schools in the coming years. The program currently being run in South Carolina to limit dropouts has cost the state $350,000, and is thus under cost-cutting pressures as a new state budget is developed. Hopefully, South Carolina, and states across the country, will realize that it is much less expensive to give our kids the resources they need to succeed early—an education, mentor support and a realistic opportunity at success—rather than paying to clean up the mess after society leaves them behind.