By CHRIS MCGANN
updated 3:04 a.m. ET, Mon., Dec. 24, 2007
OLYMPIA -- The Bush administration is cutting off funding for abstinence-only sex education in Washington because this state now requires schools to provide additional, medically accurate information about preventing unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Up until this year, the state has received an annual $800,000 federal grant for abstinence-only sex education. The money was used to produce and air public service announcements as well as developing abstinence-only curriculums for schools.
The programs had been used in many cases alongside more comprehensive sex education programs taught at the discretion of individual school districts.
This year, however, the Legislature passed a law that makes comprehensive sex education compulsory for all schools.
Another state law requires that the Health Department apply for the abstinence-only grant.
Advocates for the comprehensive sex education law argued that the new curriculum would help reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. But regardless of the outcome, the federal government will no longer provide the grant, which would have been about $200,000 this year.
"We've been told that we can expect our proposal to be denied," Health Department spokesman Tim Church said. He added that the federal government has yet to formally deny the application in writing.
In the past the federal government had accommodated the state's abstinence-only programs even though many school districts offered additional sex education information. But there was not much wiggle room this year after the state defined the broader curriculum requirements in statute, Church said.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, sponsored the bill and was unapologetic about forgoing the money.
"I'm not chasing the dollar," she said. "The state of Washington made its decision; we did as a Legislature, that we believe kids ought to be taught a comprehensive sex education with abstinence-only included in that program.
"If the federal government will not agree to that and will not fund it because we aren't doing that, I guess that's too bad. I wish they would look at a balance because that's what kids need."
McAuliffe said the law that requires the state to apply for the grant is a Catch-22 that will most likely be resolved with a simple housekeeping bill in the 2008 session.
LeAnna Benn, of the Spokane-based abstinence-only advocacy group Teen-Aid, has accused the state of intentionally forgoing the grant.
"This is their way of complying with legislation but letting the federal government deny the funds," she said.
"How healthy is it to refuse to use funding for one of the components of the 'comprehensive' education plan? It is one thing to want comprehensive as an inclusion decision but to remove abstinence funding sets an entirely different agenda direction."
Benn is concerned that without the federal grant no money would be available for such groups as her own to present abstinence in presentations.
"What messages are we sending if the funding for encouraging (teenagers) to wait is cut but increases are given to programs promoting contraceptive services and sexual orientation?" she said.
McAuliffe said the state has thoroughly vetted the issue.
"We didn't plan to teach abstinence-only alone; the bill says you will have comprehensive sex education programs that will include abstinence-only. If the federal government says you can't teach that comprehensive sex education program, then obviously we can't fit it."