Monday, July 13, 2009

Tough Calls On Sex Education In Texas Schools

In a brief article titled "Sex Education In Public Schools -- Tough Call?" a Dallas Morning News blog post referenced an article in this blog about sex education curricula in school districts around Collin County. The DMN blog post asked if teaching abstinence-plus, which includes information about contraceptives, is a good idea.

Good idea or not, the "tough call" is likely to get a lot tougher for Collin County school board trustees, school administrators and School Health Advisory Councils if the U.S. Congress accepts President Obama's 2010 budget proposal. Pres. Obama's 2010 budget will cut federal abstinence-only funding that has been flowing into Texas for a decade. Texas as a whole might have to loosen its stubborn insistence on abstinence-only sex education, if President Obama's 2010 budget proposal is adopted.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Texas received almost $18 million in federal "abstinence-only" funding in 2007, matched by $3 million in state funds in that year. While Republican Gov. Rick Perry rejected federal "economic stimulus" money in 2009, meant to aid unemployed Texans, Gov. Perry has said he supports Texas' abstinence-only sex ed programs, which are largely funded by federal money. "The governor is comfortable with current law and supports abstinence programs," said Gov. Perry's spokeswoman, Allison Castle. [Houston Chronicle]

Texas, in accepting more federal abstinence-only education funding than any other state, has largely adopted the federally mandated "strings" attached to the money.
For example, the federal Title V abstinence-only education program mandates that grant recipients adopt “abstinence education” which:
  1. Has as its exclusive purpose teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
  2. Teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children;
  3. Teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and other associated health problems;
  4. Teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity;
  5. Teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
  6. Teaches that bearing children out of wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child’s parents, and society;
  7. Teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increase vulnerability to sexual advances, and
  8. Teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity.
Title V funded programs are not permitted to advocate or discuss contraceptive methods except to emphasize their failure rates. The Title V teaching requirements listed above are coded in the federal law (Title V, Section 510 (b)(2)(A-H) of the Social Security Act (P.L. 104-193) authorizing the " abstinence-focused" funding. (HHS Reference here)
The Texas education code does not require public schools to offer sex education. But if they do, the teaching plan must be abstinence-focused, and instruction about contraceptives must be couched in terms of how often they fail, according to language added to the Texas education code in 1995 with legislation authored by State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston and co-author Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa. The "abstinence-focused" language was added to then Governor Bush's education bill that created School Health Advisory Committees (SHACs) in each school district. While the "abstinence-focused" language does not outlaw abstinence-plus teaching plans, which includes information about safe sex and STD prevention, the law is widely interpreted by social conservatives as an exclusive mandate for abstinence-only teaching plans.

When George W. Bush became president in 2001, he was a vocal proponent of abstinence-only sex education programs and started increasing federal spending on abstinence-only education in U.S. schools, with the hope that it would reach $320 million a year. Federal abstinence-only education funding reached a maximum level of approximately $214 million per year during President Bush's second term in 2008. (abstinence-only funding> graph)

Several recent studies, including a large 2008 federal study, reveal that after more than a decade of increasing federal and state government spending and emphasis on abstinence-only education, the program has failed to achieve its purpose.

Studies show that teenagers who receive abstinence-only sex education are just as likely to have premarital sex as teens who receive abstinence-plus or other variations of comprehensive sex education. Further, teens and young adults that received abstinence-only education are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do engage in sexual activity.

Other recent studies from multiple sources show that after falling steadily for more than a decade, the birth rate for American teenagers again started to increase after 2005. The teen birth rate rose by 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 among 15-to-19-year-old girls, after plummeting 34 percent between 1992 and 2005, according to National Center for Health Statistics. Recent government statistics also shows that one in four U.S. teenage girls has contracted a sexually transmitted disease and 30 percent of U.S. girls become pregnant before the age of 20.

Even though Texas has received more federal dollars for abstinence-only sex education than any other state in the union, the state has the third highest teen birth rate in the nation -- 50% higher than the national average. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) a Texas teen gets pregnant every 10 minutes. Texas Medicaid paid for 17,322 deliveries to teen mothers aged 13-17 in 2007 and according to National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy data, teen childbearing (teens 19 and younger) costs Texas taxpayers (federal, state, and local) at least $1 billion annually. That $1 billion annual payment is on top of the $21 million dollars in federal and state tax payer money spent annually on government sponsored abstinence-only sex education that is increasing rather decreasing Texas teen pregnancy rates.

Evidence compiled over almost twenty years shows that abstinence-plus programs (programs that stress abstinence before marriage, but also that provides comprehensive sex education) reduces teen pregnancies and STD infections:
After the teen birth rate rose sharply between 1986 and 1991, hitting an all-time high of 61.8 births per 1,000 girls, the Clinton Administration promoted an abstinence-plus type sex education campaign. That program successfully reversed the rising teen birth trend and and teen pregnancies plummeted between through the 1990s until 2005.

The $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars the federal government has redirected to "abstinence-only" teaching programs since President Bush was elected in 2000 has delivered increasing rates of teen pregnancies and STD infections.
To again stem the tide of increasing rates of teen pregnancies and STD infections, President Obama's 2010 budget asks congress to terminate President Bush's Community-Based Abstinence-Only Education (CBAE), Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), mandatory Title V Abstinence-Only Education, Compassion Capital Fund and Rural Communities programs. In place of these conservative Abstinence-Only Education Initiatives President Obama's budget is asking congress to authorize at least $164 million in funding for abstinence-plus type comprehensive sexuality health education initiatives.
So, beginning next year, if the U.S. Congress accepts President Obama's 2010 budget proposals, Texas will lose all of its federal abstinence-only sex education funding. Further, future federal funding for sex education flowing to the state will have certain strings attached that will mandate that the federal money must be used for abstinence-plus comprehensive sexuality health education initiatives.
Texas, from Gov. Perry through the state's education agencies down to the local school board trustees, School Health Advisory Councils and school administrators, will have to make some "tough calls" about what to teach Texas teens. What "tough calls" will the Governor, state legislators, state education agency officials, local school board trustees and school administrators make given 94 percent of Texas' school districts are locked into abstinence-only programs?

Will Governor Perry, who counts social conservatives as a large part of his base, make the "tough call" to refuse Obama's federal comprehensive sexuality health education funding, just as he refused Obama's federal funding to aid unemployed Texans?
Social conservatives in Texas and Collin County, who absolutely reject the idea of teaching safe sex in schools, likely will not accept President Obama's 2010 federal " comprehensive" sex education funding program, even if it does still stress abstinence as a first choice.

On the other hand, a August Texas Poll shows that 90 percent of Texans favor teaching students age-appropriate, medically accurate information on abstinence, birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

If Gov. Perry supports the social conservative position on this issue to win the conservative vote for the 2010 Republican primary, he risks loosing the November 2010 general election.
If Governor Perry rejects Pres. Obama's " comprehensive" sex education federal funding, what "tough call" will he make to find state tax money to continue abstinence-only education programs.

What "tough calls" would a Governor K. B. Hutchison or Governor Tom Schieffer make to accept and use or reject federal comprehensive sex ed funding. Will Texas' conservative Republican legislators make the "tough call" to override Governor's rejection of federal funding for comprehensive sex education?

Will Texas legislators rework Texas education law to promote federally mandated comprehensive sex education teaching programs, even if social conservative Republican voters oppose it? Will local school board trustees and school administrators make the "tough call" to remake their abstinence-only sex education teaching plans into comprehensive abstinence-plus teaching plans to qualify for federal education funds? If not, how will they pay for abstinence-only education programs absent federal funding support?

And, last, but not least, Republicans from the fiscal conservative wing of the party should be asking Republicans from the social conservative wing of the party why they insist on spending the tax payers' money on abstinence-only government programs when, by every measure, they fail to work.

Parent, voters and the ladies and gentleman of the press really need to start asking these questions.

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