Legislature turns away millions for comprehensive sex education

By | 09.12.11 | 8:59 am

The state Legislature turned away $2.8 million in annual funding from the federal government for comprehensive sex education in Florida.

According to a spokesperson from the Florida Department of Health, funding for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) “has been declined by DOH because we were not granted Legislative Budget Authority to move forward with the project.”

The funding was allocated by the Affordable Care Act.

According to information provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “the purpose of [the] program is to educate youth between the ages of 10 and 19 on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS.”

Unlike a number of abstinence-only education programs in the state, the PREP grant would have gone to educate students on contraception and STD preventation.

This year, the state Legislature did approve money from the Affordable Care Act for almost $2 million dollars in awards for abstinence-only sex education groups in the state. These programs have been shown to place a very limited emphasis on health specifics.

According to a Department of Health spokesperson, “the PREP funding announcement stated that funds must be used for a program designed to educate adolescents on both abstinence and contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS and at least three adulthood preparation subjects.”

Statewide, Florida has made strides in reducing teen pregnancy in the past few years. However, a number of counties are facing a persistent problem with high teen pregnancy rates. Over 60 percent of the counties in Florida with the highest birth rate among teens who are between the ages of 15 and 19 did not manage to decrease their rates in 2009.

Many comprehensive sex education advocates have pointed to a Florida statute requiring schools in the state to teach abstinence education as part of the reason some counties struggle to decrease teen pregnancy rates. The state policy requires schools to “teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students.”

However, each district interprets that statute differently. For example, Manatee County has incorporated more comprehensive sex education curriculum, while Baker County has decided to adopt a very rigid abstinence-only sex education policy.

Nan Gould, a sex education specialist with Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, told The Florida Independent that with the high rate of teen pregnancies and the growing problem of teenagers contracting HIV in the U.S., it is important that schools provide robust comprehensive sex education programs.

In 2009, Florida was sixth in the nation for teen birth rates.

The Department of Health tells the Independent that the agency has not, however, turned back the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Tier 1 Grant.

According to a statement from a DOH spokesperson:

The Office of Adolescent Health (OAHU) granted the DOH this funding in the amount of $3,565,631 per year for 5 years to support medically accurate and age appropriate programs that reduce teenage pregnancy. The specific purpose of these funds is to replicate an evidence-based program that has been proven through rigorous evaluation to reduce teenage pregnancy, behavioral risks underlying teenage pregnancy, or other associated risk factors. DOH is utilizing these funds to enhance previous Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Youth Development efforts existing statewide. Twenty-three (23) non-metropolitan counties within Florida will be implementing the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) with 9th grade students over the course of the grant period. Progress, fidelity and outcomes will be measured and evaluated in partnership with the University of South Florida, College of Public Health.

Planned Parenthood is one of the few organizations in the state that provides comprehensive sex education. However, the group is frequently denied public funds in the state because of opposition from anti-abortion groups.

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