Kasey Says Reading and Anti-Truancy Program sign now

State Ends Funding for Reading, Anti-Truancy Program
(As Printed in the Albuquerque Journal 8-20-04)

A plan to expand the innovative Kasey Says reading and anti-truancy program to schools statewide is coming unraveled.
The program's namesake, a 5-year-old golden retriever, has been used to crusade against truancy and substance abuse and helped promote literacy, good behavior and safety in Sandoval County schools for the past several years.
Kasey and his brothers were set to bark in classrooms throughout the state under a $48,000 contract administered by Sandoval County. But the contract was not renewed, and funding for the program ends Sept. 1.
Department of Education spokeswoman Charmaine Jackson-John said this week that instead of funding the Kasey Says program, the department has awarded about $300,000 to 12 school districts and two charter schools to implement truancy initiatives.
She said Kasey Says was funded as a pilot project. "The contract ended in June," she said.
Kasey Says was started in 2000 by the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department as a reading and safety program in the Placitas and Algodones elementary schools.
As a reward for good attendance, good behavior and good grades, children get to read to the mild-mannered Kasey or groom him and take him for walks. Word of the program's success in Sandoval County prompted more than 1,500 requests for information from police agencies and school districts around the country.
Last year, Gov. Bill Richardson and his truancy czar at the time, Sid Ashmore, said they wanted to make the Kasey Says program an integral part of Richardson's truancy initiative.
Ashmore has since retired for health reasons.
The state came up with $48,000 to hire Vanessa Johnston, the program's co-founder, as state coordinator and to place 10 golden retrievers in schools throughout the state.
Johnston spent the past year finding the dogs and placing them with both law enforcement and civilian handlers. Two golden retriever puppies have homes with the Doсa Ana Sheriff's Department, two with the Chavez County Sheriff's Department, one with the Espaсola Police Department, one with the Sandoval County Sheriff's Department and another with a civilian handler in Corrales.
But without additional funding, Johnston said the program isn't going to go any further.
"This program takes time to develop," Johnston said.
"It blows my mind. What the state has done was to take $48,000 and blow it."
The dogs are a year old and ready to be utilized in schools, but neither the dogs nor the handlers have been trained in the Kasey Says curriculum.
Sandoval County Sheriff Lt. Dean Alexander, who is Johnston's father and program co-creator, said Kasey Says could reach at least 5,000 children a month with the animals that are in place.
"We are visiting 12 schools a month with just three dogs in Sandoval County," he said.
He said Kasey Says is a structured program.
"You don't just go into a school with a dog," he said. "We've got seven dogs out there now that are just going to be house pets and it really bothers me."
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said the governor still supports the program, even though there is no state funding earmarked for it.
"The governor hopes more school districts will pursue the program as part of his truancy initiative," Gallegos said.
Johnston said for now the Kasey Says program will remain in Sandoval County where it has been expanded with two new dogs and an additional deputy, who is also a school resource officer. The county pays for the program.
Ruth Williams, the Education Department legislative liaison, said the department recognizes the value of Kasey Says. She said the schools that received grant money for truancy programs could use the grants to implement their own Kasey Says programs.
"There was funding granted to districts to create innovative ways to tackle truancy, and the department would approve of (the Kasey Says program)," she said.
Johnston said that if the program is not renewed, she will step down as state coordinator and pursue a career with the Sandoval County Sheriff Department.
"In two weeks, this is over as a statewide initiative," Alexander said. "Vanessa won't be able to go down and train the dogs and their handlers. She needs to be teaching this right now."

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Adela BanksBy:
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