Thursday, January 12, 2012

Texas Schools Making Progress on Sex-Ed

While most Texas public schools are still using abstinence-only sex education programs, more school districts are adopting an abstinence-plus approach, according to a Texas Freedom Network (TFN) report released in November. In 2010, 25 percent of Texas school districts were using abstinence-plus programs, with information about BOTH abstinence and contraception, compared to under 4 percent a short three years ago.

It is a positive development that more school districts are including information about contraceptives, as well as about abstinence. Texas teens need information on risk reduction, since 6 in 10 have had sex by the time they are high school seniors.

As reported in the Houston Chronicle, "a shift is occurring in Texas as more districts move from abstinence-only programs to a comprehensive approach that teaches about condoms and other contraceptives.....recent state and local studies show that most parents, as well as the general public, favor a more balanced approach."

Still, the statistics are sobering. Texas has the third highest birth rate for girls aged 15 to 19 -- 63 births per thousand -- and the second highest percentage of repeat teen births.

Merely including information about condoms and contraceptives does not automatically mean progress, however. It is important that programs -- whether they are "abstinence-only" or "abstinence-plus" -- actually have demonstrated positive effects on teen behavior. It is these "evidence-based" programs, with demonstrated behavioral effects in strongly-designed studies, that will make the biggest progress for Texas teens.

There is also concern that merely including information about condoms and contraceptives does not automatically make a program "abstinence-plus". A truly abstinence-plus approach requires that a program -- in addition to promoting abstinence, first and foremost -- also promote contraceptive use for teens who have sex.

The TFN report classified Worth the Wait as abstinence-plus because it includes information on condoms and contraceptives in its high school-level materials. Used in nearly 20% of Texas school districts, Worth the Wait was responsible for most of Texas' growth in abstinence-plus programming. However, it is not clear that this program promotes contraceptive use: its website stresses (and even exaggerates) the limitations of condoms and other contraceptives.

Neverthless, the findings of the new TFN study are encouraging, signaling that progress can take place on a local level, even in a state with little experience with abstinence-plus or evidence-based programs.

More Good News for Texas: PREP

The December passage of the federal Appropriations bill means that in 2012, agencies and schools in Texas will be able to apply for Texas's share of the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) funds. On Dec. 23, President Obama signed the Omnibus Budget Act, which continues federal funding for PREP. An early House committee draft of the bill would have blocked this mandatory funding for effective abstinence-plus education programs, but the final legislation included it.

PREP funds promise to be an important source of funding for evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention efforts in Texas. In 2010, and again in 2011, our state declined to apply for its portion of these funds, which support evidence-based education on abstinence and contraception. In 2010, Texas' share of this funding was $4.4 million, and presumably a similar amount was declined in 2011. This funding, which is part of the Affordable Care Act (Health Care Reform), will become available in 2012 for school districts and agencies to apply for to provide abstinence-plus education, along with other topics to help teens prepare for adulthood.

The new appropriations law also provides:
  • Continued Tier 1 and Tier 2 grant funding for the Office of Adolescent Health Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program
  • Nearly level funding for the Title X family planning program, which provides funds to supply birth control and screenings for low-income patients
  • Continued discretionary funds for community health centers additional funding for competitive grants for abstinence education
It is encouraging that PREP funds will be available for Texas. With the nation's 3rd highest teen birth rate, our state urgently needs this funding for effective programs to prevent teen pregnancy.

It is also heartening that most of the key programs to prevent teen and unplanned pregnancy are being continued, in spite of the challenging fiscal and political climate. Maintaining the high standards of evidence and evaluation for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program will ensure that federal funds are focused on programs that work. Unfortunately, the new funding for abstinence-only education does not include such standards.

Reprinted from the Healthy Futures Alliance (HFA) newsletter. HFA is a community coalition dedicated to reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy in San Antonio. HFA has members who are pro-choice and others who are pro-life, but all are working together on prevention, using science-based strategies. Learn more about HFA, and Healthy Futures of Texas, the non-profit that supports HFA, at

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