MANATEE -- The Florida Boys and Girls Clubs, which includes the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County, gives taxpayers more bang for their buck.
Those are the findings from a recent Florida TaxWatch Study, which determined that for every 100 high school graduates the Boys & Girls Clubs help, the state of Florida saves more than $29 million.
According to the report -- The Florida Boys and Girls Clubs: An Analysis of Educational, Juvenile Justice and Economic Outcomes -- FBGC participants have higher academic achievement levels and lower juvenile detention rates vs. similar peers who do not take advantage of the programs.
"The Florida Boys and Girls Clubs provide opportunities for at-risk youth to be
successful in the classroom and develop into responsible citizens," said Dominic Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch, an independent, nonpartisan, non-profit research institute and government watchdog.
The study compared FBGC participants with a demographically similar peer group. The FBGC students achieved higher median FCAT reading scores, and only 2.96 percent were referred to the juvenile justice system compared to 7.49 percent of their peers.
"The Florida TaxWatch findings show conclusively that, because of Boys & Girls Clubs' targeted outreach programs for at-risk youth, these kids, compared to their same peer groups, are doing better in school, staying clear of trouble and preparing themselves for a more productive future," said Marc Dosogne, the new CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County. "That is true right here in Manatee County. How great is that for our community?"
The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County serve more than 6,000 youths at seven locations: Daughtrey Elementary School, Orange Ridge-Bullock Elementary School, Harllee Middle School, Lincoln Memorial Middle School, Southeast High School and the DeSoto and Palmetto clubs.
According to the report, more than 2.5 million children have participated since 1997 in the FBGC, which has received more than $41 million in state funds.
The 2013 Legislature included a $9 million appropriation for the Florida Boys and Girls Clubs Alliance, the largest ever single appropriation to any alliance in the nation.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a member of the appropriation committee, was instrumental in helping get that money.
"The program has a proven track record," he said. "It has improved and, in some instances, turned around the lives of young people, so it was a priority for me in this last session. It has a lot of community support because it works."
The local portion of that funding was $379,389 and enabled the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County to open two new clubs, launch the Alternative To Out of School Suspension program, implement Project Based Learning and expand the Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach Program.
More than 57,000 youths figure to benefit statewide, which is significant, given that more than 900,000 of an estimated 4 million Florida youths between the ages of 6 to 18 live at or below the poverty level.
"Florida leaders have recognized the value that the Boys and Girls Clubs provide to all Floridians, and we encourage them to continue identifying and rewarding those programs that have a proven record of success," said Jerry Parrish, Florida TaxWatch chief economist and project leader for the study.
Taxpayer savings from the FBGC include reduced grade retention costs, as participants are 14 percent more likely to be promoted than their peers, and juvenile justice cost avoidances, as referrals for non-participants are two times higher than for participants.
Grade retention costs taxpayers $9,000 per student, juvenile justice processing costs about $5,000 per youth and incarceration can cost up to $46,305 for an average eight-month stay.
"When you consider the cost savings to the taxpayers of Florida, the $9 million investment the state Legislature is making is going to pay big dividends down the road," Dosogne said. "That is good for taxpayers, the communities and the kids."
The Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs represents more than 237 clubs from Pensacola to Key West and served more than 135,000 youth last year. They have over 14,000 board members, adult staff and program volunteers assisting with after-school care, summer programs, assistance with homework, reading, computer work, delinquency prevention and mentoring programs.
The clubs are available in 61 of Florida's 67 counties and serve children between 6 and 18 years old.
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix