Lawmaker seeks funding for recovery schools

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Amber spends hours riding metro buses in order to stay sober.

“I needed sobriety help,” Amber, a high school student using just her first name, told the House Education Policy Committee Tuesday in support of increased funding for recovery schools.

Rep. Linda Slocum (DFL-Richfield) sponsors HF2326 that would provide more funding for schools offering treatment and solace to students tormented by drugs. Approved by the committee, the bill awaits action by the House Education Finance Committee.

According to the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, the number of recovery schools in Minnesota continues to decline. Currently, there are just four recovery schools, or 128 available seats, in the state. This reflects the loss of nine schools over the past five years.

Only 3 percent of students under 18 have access to a recovery school, the Department of Human Services determined in 2012.

Barriers exist for schools to keep their recovery program open, MAAP notes, including budgetary challenges because the student population in recovery programs fluctuate.

Having licensed alcohol and drug counselors and social workers are essential to the operations of a recovery school, MAAP notes.

“They’re (recovery schools) kind of going away, because you need all of this additional support beyond education funding,” Lea Dahl, area learning center operations principal at Independent School District 287, said after the hearing.

Do recovery schools improve the odds of students staying sober?

“It’s possible,” Dahl said.

Some students can go back to their regular schools after receiving drug treatment, but others, like Amber, can’t, Dahl said.

Any school can become a recovery school, Dahl explained, but it requires the specialized staff and the approval of the education commissioner.

Slocum’s bill attempts to increase funding for school recovery programs in a number of ways. For instance, in Fiscal Year 2015 and later, the bill would make recovery program revenue part of the general education revenue calculation.

Additionally, the legislation would make students attending recovery programs eligible for student transportation aid.

For Amber, transportation was a huge problem. She attends a recovery program in the White Bear Lake school system, which requires three bus transfers to get to school from Cottage Grove.

A companion, SF1925, sponsored by Sen. Chris Eaton (DFL-Brooklyn Center), awaits action by the Senate Education Committee.