Although Senate Bill 73 explicitly states "An act abolishing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) Program," Rep. Christine Kaufmann says the bill is only a housekeeping measure designed to ditch an old financial account associated with the program. D.A.R.E. itself is alive and well.
"It was inconveniently named," says Kaufmann, D-Helena. "It didn't really get rid of any program. It just got rid of empty sections of the law that didn't refer to anything that existed anymore."
Kaufmann introduced SB 73, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Steve Bullock at the request of the Montana Board of Crime Control. MBCC Bureau Chief Don Merritt says the bill's main goal was to eliminate an outdated account originally intended to bolster D.A.R.E.'s federal funding through optional tax return donations in the 1990s.
The idea never took off, but the account remained on the books with less than $100 in it. The account's mere existence prompted fruitless calls from Montana residents seeking additional funding for their own community-led substance abuse programs.
D.A.R.E was founded in 1983 and has been the subject of scrutiny over the years for its effectiveness in reducing drug use among children. While it still exists in some Montana school districts through locally driven funding, it has not been used in Missoula County since 1998, when the School Resource Officer program replaced it.
Thomas Johnson, a former police officer who now serves as a community liaison with the University of Montana's Office of Public Safety, says D.A.R.E served a special purpose in being one of the first programs that brought police officers and students together in a non-punitive way. He says it led to the broad-based SRO program that is still used in MCPS today.
"I see my young kids at the U that I taught nine or 10 years ago," Johnson says. "Seeing that blossom over the years, it's really unbelievable."
Old accounts may vanish, but at least for some, the program's impact hasn't.