State budget cuts block anti-truancy effort

BATON ROUGE (AP) — State budget cuts and a directive from Gov. Bobby Jindal's office effectively ended LSU's involvement with

statewide truancy programs for at-risk youths.

The LSU Office of Social Service Research Development said Wednesday that it will end its 16-year partnership with the Truancy

Assessment and Service Center on July 1. It blamed the move on a $331,000 budget cut handed down from the state late last

month.

An East Baton Rouge Parish school

administrator, Domoine Rutledge, familiar with the program tells The

Advocate removing LSU from the process could compromise anti-truancy

efforts around the state.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, another vocal supporter of the TASC program, called it one of

the most effective initiatives he's seen and a model for similar efforts. He called LSU's announcement "sad to see."

Kristy Nichols, Jindal's commissioner of

administration, said in a prepared statement released Wednesday night:

"The Truancy

Assessment and Service Center program itself is not ending, the

centers did not get a funding reduction, and the centers still

have $2.4 million in funding to continue their activities and core

functions of reducing truancy and getting kids back in

school in 21 parishes. Part of the midyear deficit plan, however,

included finding efficiencies and savings of $331K in administrative

costs."

Created by the Legislature in 1998 to prevent students from dropping out and diverting at-risk youths away from crime, TASC

targets K-5 students referred to the program by schools after a certain number of absences.

A TASC officer reviews the case and determines if the student is considered a risk for chronic truancy. If so, the officer

works with the student's family to craft a tailored service plan aimed at improving the student's school participation.

Officers also follow up with students and monitor their progress.

When TASC gets involved, 85 percent of the students stay in school, said Cecile Guin, LSU's OSSRD director. The program has

served 82,000 children in 32 parishes over the years, she added.