Addicted to grants

Nothing gets a school district salivating quite like federal grant funding. “Free money!” exclaim the administrators and trustees, enabling them to temporarily stop crying poverty and spend the dough on whatever cause the grant seeks to advance.

The Clark County School District found out Wednesday it will get $450,000 from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the U.S. Department of Education to administer random drug tests on high school athletes. Given the state’s stagnant tax collections, it’s a good bet the district never would have instituted such a program without the federal drug czar’s largess.

Now seven valley high schools will join Green Valley High School in testing team members for alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, steroids and other illegal substances. Students who test positive for drug use can be kicked off their squads and prohibited from participating in other extracurricular activities. The $450,000, along with donations and student fees, will help sustain the random testing program for three years, officials said.

Forget for a moment that there is inconclusive evidence that random testing actually deters students from using illegal substances — some studies show young men and women are more likely to steer clear of school sports and clubs, instead. Forget also that this type of insidious assault on individual privacy discourages kids from standing up for their rights and liberties in the face of an intrusive state.

Another issue here is what happens when the grant money runs out. Are we to believe that three years from now the Clark County School District will cease the random testing programs and tell affected athletes they no longer have to fear being called to pee in a cup?

Of course not. Schools will insist on keeping the programs around, and when donations and student fees don’t come anywhere close to covering expenses, administrators will demand that state taxpayers pick up the difference.

We’ve seen this cycle before, both in public education, law enforcement and social services, where temporal federal funding provides the perfect excuse to grow bureaucracies beyond what taxpayers are inclined to support.

Before the school district accepts its first check from the feds, it should muster the courage to just say no.


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