Although Texas has long favored an abstinence-focused approach to sex education, under President Obama’s administration the focus and funding have shifted toward contraception-focused programs. Now, more than a quarter of the school districts in the state teach “abstinence-plus” lessons, according to a new study by the Texas Freedom Network.
Just three years earlier, a similar study found only 3.6 percent of Texas school districts were teaching abstinence-plus in health education or physical education courses. Now, seven of the 10 largest districts in the state are using abstinence-plus curricula for sex education, including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Houston.
Until recently, most Texas schools avoided teaching anything but abstinence, and a few even avoided teaching sex education altogether. Abstinence-only teaching took hold in Texas schools thanks in part to President George W. Bush’s grants for such programs, from which Texas receives more funding than any other state.
In 2010 Texas received $5.4 million of $33.4 million available nationally for abstinence grants, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Under the Obama administration, funding for abstinence-centered instruction has been cut drastically while funding for contraception-centered programs has increased.
Successful Programs Cut Off
Dr. Freda M. Bush, president and CEO of the Medical Institute for Sex Health, says she’s very disappointed with the direction the Obama administration has taken regarding funding for abstinence-only programs in Texas public schools.
“We had a program in El Paso that was very successful at reducing teen pregnancy, and the federal funding was completely cut even though there were two years left. It was discontinued last year even though the teen birthrates are lower than before we started the program,” said Bush.
Bush says the success of the El Paso school program, which was taught to middle school and high school students, resulted from the combination of encouraging emotional and mental aspects of healthy behaviors and including a parental component.
“We advocate and teach risk avoidance. We know that if teens refrain from having sex, then it lowers the incidence of pregnancies and STDs by 100 percent, and this leads to healthier relationships and lives,” Bush explained.
“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) even say that teen birthrates are at an all-time low and more teens are choosing abstinence, so just at a time when we’re making progress, the federal government is cutting funding for these programs,” Bush said.
Scaling Back Abstinence
Heather Boonstra, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, says the Obama administration has changed the direction of funding for sex education in two ways.
“First, through the resuscitation of a program called the Title V State Abstinence Education Grant Program, $50 million per year will be allocated to the states for Fiscal Years 2010–2014,” Boonstra said. “Second, the administration has also budgeted $75 million annually for the next five years for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) which offers grants for states with comprehensive sex education programs.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2010 some $155 million in teen pregnancy prevention grants were awarded through PREP to states, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and universities. Over the past two years, however, Texas decided not to apply for funds under that program.
Since then, federal funds for abstinence-only programs have been scaled back sharply.
Political Motive for Cutbacks?
Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), says the funding shift is radically reducing the availability of abstinence-only education.
“While Texas still has abstinence education in many school districts, many others want it but do not implement it because of a lack of funding. Schools like what they can get for free,” Huber said. “Currently about 96 percent of federal funding is not for abstinence-only education. Districts are waiting for it but don’t have the money. What we have is not really supply and demand when it comes to sex education, but whatever is supplied is being used.”
Huber says what is being supplied is more contraceptive-centered programs. In fact, the NAEA just released a new report showing a “stunning” 1:24 disparity between abstinence education and contraceptive-centered programs.
“The result is a historic departure in federal prevention policy,” Huber said, “because it ignores any meaningful emphasis on risk avoidance and focuses almost exclusively on contraceptive-centered sexual health programs.”
‘It Makes No Sense’
According to the report, in 2008, during the final days of the Bush administration, 25 percent of all funding was devoted to SRA Abstinence Education, but a pattern of precipitous decreases in SRA funding began with President Obama’s FY 2010 budget submitted shortly after he took office in 2009. The recently proposed FY 2013 Presidential Budget recommends a mere 4 percent of all funding for SRA primary prevention programs be devoted to addressing teen sex.
Huber notes billions more dollars are being spent on contraceptive programs despite evidence of successful abstinence programs, even as funding is cut back.
“The CDC released data showing that teen birth rates are at an all-time low at the same time as abstinence rates have increased to nearly 75 percent among 15-17 year olds. It makes no sense to be cutting funding now,” Huber said.
NAEA: New Report Reveals Unprecedented Funding Disparity: http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/newsroom/new_report_reveals_disparity.html