Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gov. Perry Struggles To Defend Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

After spending more federal abstinence-only education money than any other state in the country over the last decade, Gov. Rick Perry's Texas is left with the highest teen birth rate and fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

Listen to Gretch Sanders of KUT News report on Texas teen pregnancy

Texas accounts for 8 percent of the U.S. population, but its teen pregnancies accounted for 11 percent ($1.2 billion) of the $10.9 billion cost to U.S. taxpayers in 2008. Of those 2008 costs federal funds paid 57 percent and state and local taxes the remaining 43 percent through Medicaid and other support programs. After the Republican controlled Texas legislature cut Texas Department of State Health Services and Medicaid funding in the 2011-13 state budget, teen mothers and their babies now have few support options.

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. But, by the summer of 2010, Texas was choosing to pass on $4.4 million in federal funds aimed at comprehensive abstinence-plus with fact-based safe-sex education for adolescents in the state, The Texas Tribune reported. The Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs consulted with Gov. Perry's office before deciding to pass on the federal sex education funds.

Last October, The Tribune's Evan Smith asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry why almost all Texas school districts focus on abstinence-only education when it doesn't to produce results. The only answer Gov. Perry would give is, "Abstinence works... it is the best form to teach our children."

According to the Texas Freedom Network, over 96 percent of Texas school districts taught abstinence-only in sex education classes in 2008.

When George W. Bush became president in 2001, he was a vocal proponent of abstinence-only sex education programs.

Bush increased 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 before Bush left office in 2009. (graph)

Pres. Obama's 2010 budget cut federal abstinence-only sex education funding and called for $164 million in funding for a new fact-based teen sex education and pregnancy prevention initiative. The switch from "abstinence-only" to fact-base "abstinence-plus" programs included competitive grants for evidence-based programs, research and evaluation, and an authorization for $50 million in new mandatory teen pregnancy prevention grants to states, tribes, and territories. The budget eliminated funding for Community-Based Abstinence Education and the mandatory Title V Abstinence Education program.

HuffPo: According to findings by the Guttmacher Institute, Texas has the highest teen birth rate and fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. Texas also has the highest rate of repeat teen births of any state at 23 percent. New Mexico tops the list with the highest teen pregnancy rate and follows Texas as the state with the second-highest teen birth rate in the U.S. Mississippi isn't far behind the two states, with the country's fifth highest teen pregnancy rate and third highest teen birth rate.

With that in mind, critics of the state's refusal of federal funds for sex ed were questioning why, according to 2009 findings by watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, over 96 percent of Texas school districts taught abstinence, but didn't include teachings of responsible pregnancy, safe sex or disease prevention.

The group's study also found, among other things, that "shaming and fear-based instruction are standard means of teaching students about sexuality," and some classrooms that do teach sex education incorporate religious instruction and Bible study.

HuffPost blogger Shawn Lawrence Otto also notes that teens in Texas who took part in abstinence-only programs were having more sex than before.

Comparing Texas' sex education stance to its most similar peer, New Mexico has a different perspective. A survey by the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition showed that 70 percent of New Mexico parents believe that "young people are going to explore their sexuality as a natural part of growing up and the best approach is to provide information and services to help them act responsibly." Just a quarter of those surveyed advocated abstinence until marriage.

Mississippi's teen pregnancies and births cost state taxpayers at least $135 million every year, the Clarion Ledger reports. The state adopted a policy in March that requires schools to have either an abstinence-only or abstinence-plus program -- abstinence-plus teaches abstinence in addition to contraception and disease prevention.

At least 17 of the state's schools have adopted abstinence-only programs, according to the Ledger, but some have dropped the curriculum after parents argued it wasn't medically accurate. Students and school officials tell the Ledger that abstinence-only programs aren't working in the state.

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