The state is slashing funding for an education program designed for students who are among school systems’ worst discipline problems.
The “day treatment” program operated through the Office of Juvenile Justice pays organizations such as AMIkids Baton Rouge to teach and to counsel the students.
The program was receiving $9.4 million to serve hundreds of students across the state. In the current year’s state budget, the program is scheduled to receive $4.5 million in funding.
“(We’re) going to have to scale back,” said Connie Percell, undersecretary of the Office of Juvenile Justice.
The administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal wanted to scrap the program entirely, amid state budget reductions. Legislators complained about the elimination during the most recent legislative session.
In the end, $4.5 million in federal funds were directed toward the program, although it is unclear more than a month into the new fiscal year whether the dollars can be used that way.
“(There’s) no certainty, but we are hopeful,” said Percell, who is meeting with the state Department of Children and Family Services on the funding issues.
Two organizations were handling the hundreds of students enrolled in the program because the youths could not make the adjustment in alternative schools that are tasked with handling disciplinary problems.
AMIkids was receiving $7.4 million and Volunteers of America more than $1 million to teach students in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Lafayette, St. Landry, Rapides, Lafourche, Ascension, Jefferson, Bossier, Madison, Acadia and Calcasieu.
Percell said Volunteers of America is pulling out because of the funding problems.
Gwen Sanders, regional director of the Acadiana program for Volunteers of America, said the organization tried to work with the Jindal administration on programs in Opelousas and Lafayette that once served 88 youths.
She said the administration wanted to provide enough money for only 11 students.
“We couldn’t run two facilities for $249,000,” Sanders said.
She said the organization reached out to legislators and tried unsuccessfully to meet with the Jindal administration. Finally, Sanders said, Volunteers of America had no choice but to close the programs.
“We would have loved to continue doing the programs,” she said.
AMIkids, a nonprofit organization that runs programs for troubled youths nationwide, is fighting to maintain classes in Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Branch, Raceland, Donaldsonville, Harvey, Tallulah, Bossier City and Lake Charles.
The organization’s contracts with the Office of Juvenile Justice expire Aug. 30.
“We are currently working on several other options to secure funding to cover the remaining funds needed to keep all our programs open and serving Louisiana’s at-risk kids and their communities,” said Sherri Ulleg, director of communications for AMIkids Inc.
Ulleg said her organization is working with the Legislative Black Caucus on other avenues of funding. She said AMIkids serves more than 900 children from 35 parishes in Louisiana.
At AMIkids Baton Rouge’s facility off Hollywood Street, the students range in age from 12 to 18. Brightly decorated bulletin boards decorate the hallways. A swimming pool offers a respite from the summer heat.
The facility’s executive director, Jamile Emile, stood at the back of a classroom and watched students learn about emotions Friday morning before pulling aside a student who refused to lift his head from his desk despite repeated admonitions from the teachers. After a quiet chat, the student returned to his seat and sat up straight.
In the school’s gymnasium, several students dribbled a basketball while another student bounced a ball against the wall. Case managers and social workers met privately with students in a beehive of offices.
The afternoon activities called for climbing and rappelling off a tower in the schoolyard. The focus at AMIkids Baton Rouge is on treatment, education and behavior modification.
Emile said he is concentrating on the program’s 53 students, instead of the funding issues.
“I have so much focus here. I let my corporate take care of that,” he said.