Nov/Dec 2009

State News: August 2009



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Pennsylvania Helps Keep Students in School

By Michael Jackson, CSG/ERC
In addition to developing the work force, students who stay in school are more likely to graduate and find jobs, but finding real ways to keep at-risk students in classrooms is tough.

One Northeastern state is trying to change that.

Pennsylvania has increasingly shifted toward using evidenced-based prevention programs in schools, betting that those programs will help reduce violence in the classroom and keep students out of jail.

It’s a bet that seems to be paying off. According to the Penn State Prevention Research Center, the state reported a $317 million return on its $60 million investment in these educational programs over the last 10 years.

The research center released a report last year detailing its educational programs’ cost-benefit for Pennsylvania, including mentoring programs, skill-building programs and individual and family therapy for juvenile offenders.

According to the report, the programs helped produce returns of between $1 and $25 for each dollar invested, and can generate savings of as much as $130 million for a single program.

Northeastern states like Pennsylvania clearly need to save money, the report points out. Increasing costs in criminal and juvenile justice systems have made it vital for states to find innovative ways to trim criminal justice costs, according to the report.

States have to find ways to “utilize very limited resources in circumstances of increasingly scarcity to improve the quality of the services that are delivered in education, and also to families and children,” said Michael King, an executive committee member for The Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference and director of the Legislative Office for Research Liaison in Harrisburg. “And using research-based, proven programs is a way to do that.”
School Suspensions in the East

There is a clear link between education and keeping young people out of jail, said Pennsylvania Rep. James Roebuck, chair of CSG/ERC’s education program and the Pennsylvania House Education Committee.

“Most people in prisons are people who never finished even high school,” Roebuck said. “So that’s a clear relationship there. We have to do a better job at making education relevant to young people.”

The state’s prevention programs are trying to do just that.

By applying evidence-based programs to known risk factors in a community, states can reduce incidences of violence and drug use in schools, Pennsylvania officials said.

“We’re no longer in the position economically to take a chance on a program that may, or may not be effective,” said Brian Bumbarger, the coordinator of policy research and outreach for Penn State’s Prevention Research Center. “In these times, ethically and fiscally, we can’t take the chance on things that haven’t been proven to be effective.”

The research center promotes the use of evidence-based research in prevention and intervention programs and provides community assistance to organizations that use those programs.

But applying the evidence-based programs isn’t easy. Some communities can often fall back on cheaper programs that do not effectively reduce violence or drug-use rates, Bumbarger said.

Communities must also frequently pay for training costs or educational materials for the schools, and those costs can add up.

But, “if you can reduce the amount of truancy in a school, there’s a dollar value to that,” Bumbarger said. “If you can increase the graduation rate, there’s a dollar value that can be attached to that.

“The overwhelming conclusion from this whole body of cost-benefit research is that these evidence-based programs are also very cost-effective,” he said.

More states seem to be looking to Pennsylvania as a model for evidence-based education. Bumbarger said he gave a presentation to the North Carolina state legislature in February, touting the cost-effectiveness of the evidence-based programs, for example.

“This is research that has not only been tried over a period of time and evaluated ... but then has been moved and implemented elsewhere,” King said.




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