Linda Gale White, long time passionate supporter of CIS. (Photo by Anthony Rathbun)
[This Opinion piece was written by Linda Gale White, Former Texas First Lady and board member of the national and Houston Communities In Schools organizations, and originally published in the Houston Chronicle May 15, 2011.]
Picture a fourth grader named David. David’s mom works hard but they are barely scraping by and cannot afford new clothes at the beginning of the school year. Ashamed of his tattered clothing and shabby shoes, David begins to skip school. By the eighth grade, he stops attending school completely.
Meet Maria — a senior with a 3.8 GPA. She is also the full-time caregiver to her five younger siblings. Unfortunately, one semester away from graduation, Maria drops out of school. She has no choice but to work more hours in order to pay the rent and feed her family.
Brittney has been struggling with addiction since she was in middle school. Now in the 10th grade, she can no longer hide her downward spiral from her teachers and classmates. Without her parents’ knowledge, she simply stops going to school.
Michael and his family were abandoned by his father. Hurt and angry, Michael begins to show signs of depression in the fifth grade. By the ninth grade his depression consumes him. He no longer has the energy or desire to go to school.
Although the names might be different, these and many more stories are repeated tens of thousands of times throughout the city of Houston. In fact, 47 percent of students in the greater Houston area fail to graduate. The dropout rate in Houston is the fourth worst in America. It can be described as no less than an epidemic and it affects our entire community. Dr. Stephen Klineberg said in his Kinder Houston Area Survey a few weeks ago that if nothing is done about it, Houston could well become a Third World city. “That’s a crummy future for Houston,” he said, “but a real possibility.” I don’t think there is anyone in our city who would not agree that something must be done.
This is where Communities In Schools (CIS) can help. Our mission is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and to achieve in life. This year, working closely with educators, community leaders and an army of volunteers, CIS leveraged social services of more than 300 community partners and 68,000 volunteer hours to more than 107 school campuses in the Houston area. As a result, 99 percent of high school CIS students stayed in school at an annual cost of $250, or a daily cost of $1.38 per student. In my book, that is certainly getting a bang for your buck and is a good way to leverage limited funding.
Communities In Schools Houston is an established program with a 30-year history of success. In fact, two rigorous evaluations conducted by ICF International recently verified that CIS is the only program to make a meaningful impact on both increasing graduation rates and decreasing the dropout rate. Also, the evaluation found that when the CIS program is implemented according to the national standard, “CIS schools have more fourth and eighth graders reaching reading and math proficiency than comparison schools.”
Where CIS is located, there is a single point of contact based inside every school who brings a community of resources on campus to surround students with the help they need. It is all very simple. These at-risk children are no different from our children. When they know that someone cares and is there to help with whatever challenges they may face, it builds hope for them, and where there is hope, there is a desire to go on to achieve the success they might never have thought possible.
Our funding comes from the state, from school districts, grants, businesses and private donors. As part of the 2010 state budget, CIS programs, established in 737 schools across Texas received $32 million in legislative support. However, this year’s original proposed state budget zeroed out CIS funding completely. This means CIS of Houston’s funding would be reduced by $1.3 million, resulting in the permanent elimination of at least 30 program sites and leaving more than 10,000 Houston students without vital services. This story would be repeated statewide with deep cuts and/or complete elimination of some programs. Currently, the Texas House and Senate have proposed putting $20 million of the funding back into CIS. This is a good start. The final decision, however, will be made later this session in conference committee, so we are anxiously awaiting our fate.
Dropout prevention programs have a twofold effect. First, these programs save the state money by helping more children graduate. Second, dropout prevention programs put money back into the state treasury through increased tax revenues from graduates and also decrease the future amount the state would more likely have to spend on welfare, medical costs and prison time for children who have dropped out of school.
In a time of fiscal austerity, alarming dropout rates and the critical need for an educated workforce, funding CIS just makes good economic sense. It is time for citizens who understand this to contact their state officials and legislators and to express their support for Communities In Schools. It is also time for the business community to get involved to help with the best economic stimulus program around: an educated workforce for Houston.
We understand that the Legislature has made the decision to balance the budget by cutting expenses, and unfortunately, education is not excluded. However, at Communities In Schools Houston, we believe that every dollar spent on education is worthless if students are unable to concentrate in school due to circumstances beyond their control. Communities In Schools of Houston has a successful 30-year history in helping these at-risk students become productive members of our society and to achieve in life.
Also, see Chronicle feature that followed Mrs. White’s Op-ed, It’s a bargain: Local program that helps students deserves support
Photo Credit: Anthony Bathbun