While the legislature has approved Governor Bobby Jindal's proposals for getting teachers to up their game and providing more school choice, an effort to keep some of the most at-risk kids in the classroom may be falling by the wayside.
The Truancy Assessment and Service Center, or TASC, program, addresses truancy among elementary school students, intervening early so they don't drop out later.
Administrators of TASC, which serves students from 21 parishes at 14 sites around the state, pleaded with the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week not to cut its funding.
Cecile Guin, Director of Research at the LSU School of Social Work, helped develop the program 13 years ago. She spoke with WRKF's Amy Jeffries in the studio along with LSU economist Stephen Barnes about TASC and the study they recently co-authored to bolster the argument for its preservation.
JEFFRIES: The Truancy Assessment and Service Center program was developed by LSU and the School of Social Work there and established by the state legislature in 1999. Is that correct?
GUIN: Yes. It was developed in response to a request from the legislature, specifically retired Rep. Chris Guillo. He wanted to do something that would prevent children from following a pathway into crime.
First time I met him he said, you know, this is the legislature, we just want to know one solution. And, of course, that was overwhelming, thinking of one thing. So I went back, I looked at over 100 death penalty social histories that I completed, looked at a study of 832 kids that had been in the juvenile justice system in Louisiana.
For most of those, that research, I had the school records, so you could see in the first grade, second grade, third grade -- it was just clear as a bell that had somebody either conducted a proper assessment, had somebody been able to deal with child maltreatment or parental substance abuse, that the child would have been able to stay in school, but with the problems they face there was no way they were going to be successful in school.
JEFFRIES: This program really targets students who are in elementary school, in kindergarten through the 5th grade.
GUIN: That's correct.
One of the other things about TASC is that it is a required rapid response. If they miss five days, they're referred to TASC, the TASC case manager determines if the child is at high risk for continued truancy or a low risk. The ones that are assessed to be at a higher risk, the case manager meets, has face-to-face contact with the parents, and they develop a plan to address whatever problem is keeping the child from being in school. And that can be anything from not having proper transportation, not having proper clothing, to anything as serious as the need for neuropsychological evaluation for a child with disabilities.
JEFFRIES: So this study then is looking now at, it's really trying to make an argument for keeping this program going.
JEFFRIES: So you brought in Stephen Barnes to look at the economic piece of that. So as you were starting to compile and look at the data, what started to pop out for you?
BARNES: The stark contrast between the prevalence of drop-outs in the corrections system relative to the prevalence of high school graduates in the corrections system is really remarkable.
JEFFRIES: Nearly half of those involved in corrections in the state of Louisiana are high school drop-outs.
BARNES: Right. And even more so, these are high school drop-outs that we were able to trace back to Louisiana public schools.
JEFFRIES: And your conclusion is that this is really really expense. Millions of dollars a year are being spent on corrections because people are dropping out of high school.
BARNES: Absolutely. If you imagine a program like TASC being able to reduce the drop-out rate by 10 percent, the total impact of that we estimate to be on the order of about $7 million reduction per year on the state corrections budget.
JEFFRIES: Have you been able to look at where the Truancy Assessment and Service Center program is falling in this year's appropriations bill?
GUIN: Yes. We are down a million dollars from last year. Half of our sites will be cut. We serve about 6,000 children a year now, and so you're talking about going from keeping about 6,000 children in school to about 3,000 children in school or less.