Two Bills Pass California Legislature Promoting After-School Programs for At-Risk High School Youth
SACRAMENTO-"After school is prime time for adolescent crime," said Glenn Backes, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) office in Sacramento, "Young people should have positive alternatives to just hanging out, getting high and getting in trouble."
The two bills sponsored by the Center for Policy Reform (the lobbying partner of DPA), and Fight Crime-Invest in Kids of California, won overwhelming support in both houses of the State Legislature this week. SB 1478 and AB 1984, by Republican Senator Bruce McPherson of Santa Cruz and Democratic Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, respectively, establish a program using federal funds to create and evaluate ten new after-school programs for high schools statewide, in a mix of urban, suburban and rural settings. It is their hope that if these programs show promise at improving literacy while discouraging problematic behavior in youth, as they have done in other states , that they will be expanded in the future.
Steinberg's bill passed the Senate on Tuesday by a vote of 29-3. McPherson's bill passed the Assembly Wednesday 69-0.
"Studies show that high-risk adolescents who attend after-school programs are more likely to graduate," said Backes. "They also show a decrease in use of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes."
In recent years the legislature has supported the expansion of after-school programs for elementary and middle schools, but has not yet created new opportunities for older adolescents. The November ballot initiative sponsored by Arnold Schwarzenegger and others also does not provide any new funds for high school programs, asking voters instead to allocate an additional $433 million dollars to programs for younger kids.
"Teenagers are the most likely age group to get into trouble, and the most excluded from after-school programs," said Backes. "Early intervention is great, but adolescents especially need something positive to do in the hours before Mom and Dad get home from work."
Marsha Rosenbaum, director of DPA's San Francisco office and author of "Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs, and Drug Education," agrees. "If kids have something to do, they are less likely to look for something to do," she said. "Unlike D.A.R.E., which is a proven failure, after-school programs really can help keep kids off drugs."
Originally the Steinberg and McPherson bills were carbon copies of one another. They have been slightly amended so that the Steinberg bill contains the description of the program, and the McPherson bill includes the budget language necessary for implementation by the state. Each author is listed as co-author of the other's bill, and have worked in concert throughout the process, creating strong bipartisan synergy on the issue.
The bills should clear their final procedural hurdles and be sent to the Governor within the week. Governor Gray Davis then has 30 days to sign or veto the measures.
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