Earlier this week, the Associated
Press’ Kevin Freking covered the astonishingly high number of states
that have withdrawn from the federal government’s Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage
funding scheme. Freking reported that just 28 states are still participating
in the federal funding, meaning that 23 (22 states and the District
of Columbia) are out.
The Administration of Children
and Families (ACF), which is currently overseeing the collapse of this
hallmark initiative of the Gingrich Congress, says that the following states are
participating for Fiscal Year 2008: AL, AZ, AR, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN,
IA, KS, KY, LA, MD, MI, MS, MO, NE, NV, NH, NC, ND, OK, OR, SC, SD,
TX, UT, and WV. ACF has also indicated that it is aware that Arizona
and Iowa will not be participating after the end of the current fiscal
Thus, at this moment even according to ACF’s rosy, "by-the-letter"
optimism, half the states have sent the message that they will not be
participating by October of this year.
Freking’s inquiry was sparked by SIECUS’ own research — to be released in our annual SIECUS State Profiles publication
— which shows that an additional
two states, at a minimum, will also reject abstinence-only funding. That brings the number of states opting out to 27. All told,
our calculations are showing that nearly $24 million will be turned down
by states next year.
As recently as September
of 2005, California stood alone in rejecting ab-only funds,
until Maine joined in. In those early days, most people thought
it impossible that we would end up with more than half the states rebuffing
the federal program and its promise of easy money. But, as Freking reports, participation has dropped 40% in just two years. The strong and clear message
coming from the states is that this is, at best, a floundering program
growing weaker by the minute.
States Opt Out for Both Substantive and Administrative Reasons
The challenge in the present
moment, however, is that the reasons for reaching this critical mass
of states are complex and diverse. Some are outright rejections;
states telling Washington they don’t want money for junk programs when they desperately need funds for effective programs, including comprehensive
sex education. Others are not participating for administrative
reasons. The program has been hobbling along
on short term extensions from Congress that make budgeting and implementation
at the state level difficult. Others have submitted comprehensive
applications that are deliberately non-compliant with the strict definitions
of what must be taught such that these applications also send a clear
message of what states want and need.
Congress Considers Yet Another Extension
Congress is currently mulling
an extension of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program that
may prolong the program’s life for a year or longer. This would be the longest extension granted
by Congress since the original authorization of the program expired
in 2002. That seems an odd parting gift for the 111th
Congress to give a program in collapse. Further, because the longer extension creates fewer
administrative hurdles to using the money, a few states not
participating for these reasons are likely to again accept the funds.
This Congress still has time to remedy its record on sex education by abolishing the program in one fell
swoop. But if Congress feels the need to extend it (and they
do because it seems inextricably linked to another priority piece of
legislation), it should do so for a very short period of time and give
a new Congress and a new President an opportunity for a fresh look.
States Lead the Way
are leading the way. They’re already making the paradigm shift: they’re embracing a more comprehensive approach to sex education.
In fact, our research shows that for the first time since
1998, there are a handful of states that are totally free of any federal
abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. Coupled with the repudiation
of the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program from coast to
coast, we have more than just a trend on our hands — we have a virtual
It is much too early
to celebrate. It took a quarter of a century for the abstinence-only-until-marriage
industry to reach its zenith and it will not disappear overnight.
But we are making enormous progress.
And there is one more new trend
that should lend substance to my optimism: the abstinence-only-until-marriage
industry itself seems to have tossed in the towel on defending its own
programs. The lobbying arm of the industry, the National Abstinence
Education Association, now rarely speaks of the benefits of abstinence-only-until-marriage
programs at all, focusing instead on demonizing the majority of Americans
who support a more comprehensive approach to sex education as condom
pushers and purveyors of promiscuity. That is the exact type of
dishonest, fear-based, culture war blather that the nation has seen
too much of since the ascendancy of the religious right some three decades
ago. It’s tired and a bit pathetic.
Fortunately, it is also confirmation
that we are on the right track.