Bob Ray Sanders

March 29, 2014

One good reason to support renewing Fort Worth’s crime prevention tax

The city’s innovative after-school program is producing outstanding results.

In 1995, after a decade of living with one of the highest crime rates in the country, Fort Worth residents voted to create the Crime Control and Prevention District (CCPD), a taxing entity that would fund programs to reduce criminal activity.

It succeeded through a number of innovative components, including citizen patrols in neighborhoods, gang intervention, school security and enhanced training for police officers. The CCPD proved so effective, in fact, that it prompted voters to renew the district (and the half-cent sales tax to support it) 10 years later and every five years since then.

On May 10, the district will be up for voter approval again, and I could give you well over 20 reasons — like a 40 percent reduction in major crime since 1995 — why Fort Worth residents should support it.

But today, I really want to talk about just one important program for young people that is partly funded from CCPD dollars and has become a model for cities and school districts around the country.

Fort Worth After School, which started 14 years ago, provides a safe, positive learning experience for students at the end of the school day when many of them otherwise would be at home, or somewhere else, without adult supervision.

In addition to homework assistance and other academic endeavors, FWAS offers recreation, sports, art, technology and community service-related activities, all contributing to the students’ overall development, said program director Miguel Garcia.

Some students are involved in fine arts, creative writing, nature and conservation projects, and there’s a boxing club at Polytechnic High School. But even “physical enrichment” programs, Garcia said, often incorporate project-based learning such as math concepts and science.

For the past 12 years, the after-school project, which is on 89 elementary and middle school/sixth-grade center campuses, has been evaluated by faculty with the Sequor Youth Development Initiative at Texas A&M University.

Among the findings are that students involved in FWAS have higher levels of school attendance and passed a higher percentage of their core classes.

“Classroom teachers indicated that over 60 percent of students who were performing poorly at the beginning of the year in areas such as getting along with the teacher, turning homework in on time, participating in class and attending class regularly, showed considerable improvement by the end of the year,” the latest evaluation said.

In addition, parents of students enrolled in after school have greater interaction with the school and their children’s teachers.

During the last school year more than 16,800 students participated, with 14,891 attending more than five days. About 8,700 are involved on a daily basis, Garcia said.

That means those youngsters, along with thousands of others involved in other city youth programs, are not on the street during the after-school hours when kids are more likely to get in trouble.

The total budget for the FWAS is $6.6 million with the city and school district providing $2.4 million ($1.1 million in CCPD money), and $4.2 million coming from federal 21st Century funds.

That’s a small amount of money for all the benefit that comes from this exceptional program.

Since 2005, the CCPD tax has brought in more than $431 million to help Fort Worth fight crime. It’s expected to raise $55.3 million this year alone.

As I said, there are plenty of reasons to vote to renew it, but to support Fort Worth After School is as good a reason as any.

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