Translating Education Department Spin on School Safety Budget Cuts

Posted by on August 18, 2010

Only the U.S. Department of Education can issue a report documenting the severe impact of school safety budget cuts, and then later try to minimize or dismiss its significance by saying, “Crime in schools has been declining since 1992,” and “Having no money should not be an excuse to do nothing.”

“The elimination of several significant funding sources (e.g., Title IV, Safe and Drug‐Free Schools) from both national and local budgets has also resulted in the elimination of entire programs that provided a framework for school safety and prevention efforts,” according to the report produced by The Center for School Preparedness of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools.

But that didn’t stop William (Bill) Modzeleski, the associate assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, from downplaying the report with quotes only a consummate bureaucratic could give with a straight face. 

Modzeleski was interviewed for Kurt Eisele-Dyrli’s story entitled, “School Safety Gets the Ax,” for District Administration Magazine’s Special Report on The State of School Security in its September, 2010, issue.  I would be negligent as a school safety professional if I didn’t translate and expand upon some comments attributed to Modzeleski in the article.

TRANSLATING EDUCATION DEPARTMENT SPIN ON BUDGET CUTS

1.  ARTICLE:  William Modzeleski, associate assistant deputy secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, says the survey was purely informational for his department and “not scientific.”

My Translation/Expansion:  Does Modzeleski need  a multi-year “scientific” research project to validate the impact of the elimination of a federal formula grant for school safety and local budget cuts due to a national recession?  Perhaps a few million dollars tossed to one of the “Beltway Bandit” research and technical assistance companies the Education Department and other federal agencies love to waste money on may seem logical to Modzeleski, but it seems to me the comment attributed to him here is a way to try to minimize the credibility of the report put out by the very “Center” he oversees.  As one colleague recently said about the Center’s report, “Only the Department of Education would have to ask if school safety budgets are impacted by the recession and elimination of the Safe and Drug Free School Program. They’re several years behind the times, as always, not to mention lacking common sense.”

2.  ARTICLE: Effective July 1, the Department of Education has cut the entire $295 million budget for state formula grants, which are paid out to states annually on a per-student basis, instead allocating the funds to a competitive national grant program called Successful, Safe and Healthy Students, a $410 million fund the consolidates several school grants together.

My Translation/Expansion:  Well, yes and no. Modzeleski and others in the Department of Education may try to spin their way out of Congress and the Administration cutting $295 million in school safety funds from the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, but their version of the facts need a little clarification.  First, the $295 million elimination of the Safe and Drug Free Schools state grant program took effect July 1, 2010, pulling the rug out from under local school districts nationwide that received this formula grant for well over a decade-plus.  Second, the Department is running a $27 million pilot project to fund a limited number of state departments of education to target “bullying” and set up “climate” surveys, the requests for proposal for this having just closed in the last week or so.  Third, the $410 million is a proposed expansion of the current $27 million pilot project for bullying and climate, and is under review in the Administration’s proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget currently being considered by Congress. In other words, the $410 million has not even been approved by Congress, muchless “replaced” the eliminated Safe and Drug Free Schools Program. 

So the facts are $295 million in formula grants provided directly to schools was eliminated effective July 1, 2010.  The $27 million pilot project is a national competitive grant and this year is targeted to state education departments, not direct to local districts.  While I didn’t graduate from public school during No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top years, I do know that $295 million minus $27 million is $268 million in cuts in school safety funding for this current school year.  I also know the difference between providing money directly to local school districts and having a national grant competition, which this year is targeted to state education departments and in the future (if approved by Congress) will only go to a limited number of grantees instead of the larger number of American schools as did Safe and Drug Free formula grants.

It appears the Education Department may, when challenged or questioned, try to suggest the eliminated Safe and Drug Free Schools formula grants have been replaced.  Not true.  It’s not the case for the current school year.  And the proposed new program skewed to bullying and climate has a narrower focus, requires a national competition instead of being a formula grant, and is not truly “replacing” what has been lost in most local districts if it does get approved by Congress as proposed.

3.  ARTICLE:  “But, Modzeleski disagrees with the dire assessment of the budget decision. ‘There isn’t any evidence that what we were doing [with the SDFSC grants] was tremendously successful. We can be much more effective with these funds.  We have a responsibility to taxpayers to fund programs that work.”

My Translation/Expansion:  A great follow-up question or two would be: “Mr. Modzeleski, given you were in charge of the Safe and Drug Free Schools Program since its on-set, if it was truly as ineffective and unsuccessful as you have said, how did you let it continue for a decade-plus?  And if you spent a decade-plus managing an ineffective and unsuccessful program as you claim, why are you still employed overseeing federal school safety programs?”

This statement also begs a couple additional questions: “How do you know you can be much more successful with the proposed $410 million when the proposed program is in the FY 2011 budget and has not even been approved by Congress?  And how do you know the $27 million pilot project funded this year, upon which the proposed $410 million new requested funding for FY2011 is based, is effective since the deadline for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the pilot project just closed a week ago and the program has not even started?  Oh, and one more question:  If you’re all driven by taxpayer accountability and programs that work, wouldn’t you want to at least start your $27 million pilot project this year before asking for another $410 million next year for a program you have yet to even start, much less evaluate and prove to work?”

4.  ARTICLE:  Modzeleski again disagrees with this bleak forecast, however.  “Having no money should not be an excuse to do nothing.  There are things that are not costly that schools can and should do to maintain levels of safety,” he says. “Crime in schools has been declining since 1992. There’s evidence out there that the long-term trend is actually positive.”

My Translation/Expansion:  On the surface, I agree with Modzeleski that there are many low-cost, no-cost school safety and emergency preparedness strategies schools should be pursuing regardless of funding cuts.  But this does not negate the dramatic impact of major school safety funding cuts at the federal, state, and local levels.  Professional staff such as counselors, psychologists, behavior intervention specialists, security officers, school resource officers, and others have a cost attached.  Schools can’t maintain an established level of service when funds and staff are pulled out from under them.  They can triage services and do some low-cost, no-cost things, but to imply they can do the same thing with no money is an insult to the intelligence of everyone.

But the insult to intelligence is even greater when Modzeleski sticks to his now-decade old claim that, “Crime n schools has been declining since 1992.”  A few good follow-up questions:  “How could you possibly know crime in schools has been declining since 1992 since there is no federal mandatory school crime reporting and tracking of law enforcement data on crimes in schools?”  Modzeleski typically gets a “pass” on this question as most reporters, parents, educators, and legislators don’t realize that the school crime “data” pushed out by the Education Department is based on a hodgepodge collection of a half-dozen or so limited academic surveys and self-report studies by multiple, fragmented sources.  It is not actual incident-based crime collected from law enforcement reports.

And what does the current Education Department administration want to do?  Spent $410 million more per year to create more surveys on “bullying” and “climate” — and still no proposals to suggest any interest in actually integrating law enforcement data on real incidents into the federal data on school crime.

Perhaps the reason they don’t want to is it would then prove Modzeleski’s repeated claim over the years that school crime has been declining since 1992 to be a lot of bureaucratic bunk?

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT FLIP-FLOPS

It seems as if the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools actually recognized a problem before they decided the problem they recognized really now isn’t a problem?

Bill Modzeleski, oh Bill, why don’t you and your colleagues at the Department of Education just say that the Administration and Congress gutted Safe and Drug Free Schools state grants because of a change of philosophy and a desire to make a dramatic shift in federal school safety policy and funding skewed to “bullying” and “funding”???  And please, please stop the bureaucratic and “downplay, deny, deflect, and defend” spin to minimize the very report your own office just put out saying that budget cuts were having a dramatic impact on school safety and have “resulted in the elimination of entire programs that provided a framework for school safety and prevention.” Reminder, Bill, these are your office’s words, not mine, so before you try to label others “alarmists” remember it is a bit hard for you to spin out of what was actually written from your office.

While I do not fully agree with the direction in which federal school safety policy and funding appear to be going with the current Administration and Congress, I have to give Kevin Jennings credit for being candid and straight-forward about his priorities.  Let’s hope Modzeleski’s consummate bureaucrat spin does not wear off on Jennings.  While we may not agree with Kevin Jenning’s approach, at least we can respect him for his candor and for not speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at:  http://www.schoolsecurityblog.com

One thought on “Translating Education Department Spin on School Safety Budget Cuts

  1. Ken,
    If one follows Mr. Modzeleski’s logic about what schools can do at low or no cost in the area of school safety would this not apply to bullying and climate as well? They can’t have it both ways.
    The reality is “no bucks, no Buck Rodgers” that is a line from the movie “The Right Stuff” It applies to any endover. It must have some funding and time. Without those two school safety or any program will suffer. In this case, school safety and prevention will suffer and our school children and staff will be subjected to additional threats. Sad

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