State of Sex Ed in Illinois Supports Needed End to Abstinence-Only Funding
While Congress determines the 2010 budget, a recent article published in the Chicago Tribune on the state of sex education in Illinois reveals the effect of the robust growth of the abstinence-only-until-marriage industry that has been fueled by federal dollars. As the article shows, the proliferation of the industry has shaped (and limited) the information students receive.
The Tribune reports that “nearly 2 in 5 Illinois students” who receive sex education in school are taught to remain abstinent until marriage without receiving any information on contraception.[i] As the article states, quoting the latest edition of the SIECUS State Profiles, the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach is “encouraged by the carrot of federal funding.”[ii] Illinois received $10,001,768 in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2008, the fourth highest amount of funding for any state. The state is home to some of the original abstinence-only-until-marriage industry leaders, thus it is no surprise that such a large amount of federal funding for such programs is funneled into the state. These industry leaders include Project Reality and the Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, which recently merged in December 2008. (See the SIECUS Illinois State Profile for more information). Project Reality developed two of the most popular, fear-based abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula, A.C. Green’sGame Plan and Navigator, both were co-authored by Scott Phelps, the founder of Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership. The curricula rely on messages of fear and shame to suggest that pre-marital sex is inevitably dangerous and that young people who have become sexually active are less worthy than their abstinent peers. Phelps has since authored Aspire, a similar curriculum that promotes heterosexual marriage as the only morally appropriate life choice. In Fiscal Year 2008, both Project Reality and Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership received federal funding from Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage and Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants.
The saturation of abstinence-only-until-marriage dollars in the state, combined with the lack of a state-wide sex education policy, causes there to be large differences in the type and extent of sex education that students receive; and in many cases they are not even taught the basics. In the Tribune article, high school teacher, Susan Cailteux, commented on her students’ performance on a sex education pre-test, “‘They don’t even get the uterus right…It’s very frustrating at times because you expect them to know the basics, but the basics have not been taught.’”[iii]
The lack of science-based and medically accurate sex education taught in Illinois schools is even more alarming when considering teen sexual behavior in the state. Data reported in the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey show that the percentage of male and female high school students who reported ever having had sexual intercourse is higher than the national average.[iv] Moreover, in 2007, Illinois had the fourth highest rate of new reported HIV cases (3,576 among adults and adolescents) of any state. [v]
The increasing investment of federal funds in failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs during the Bush administration clearly did not serve to ensure that Illinois youth, and youth nationwide, received accurate information about sexual health risks and proven prevention methods.
In his recently released Fiscal Year 2010 budget, President Obama, who has voiced his support for evidence-based public health programs and providing medically accurate and age-appropriate comprehensive sex education to young people, proposed zeroing out the federal money for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. It is not yet clear whether Congress will follow his lead despite the overwhelming evidence that supports a new approach. Fortunately, there does seem to be a trend toward eliminating abstinence-only-until-marriage funding as is reflected by the first-ever cut made to federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding. On March 10th Congress passed the 2009 omnibus appropriations bills, which cut funding for CBAE by $14.2 million for the current fiscal year. Total funding for the program is now down to $99 million from $113 million in FY08. And, despite recent efforts made by conservative members of Congress, the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant program is set to expire in June without reauthorization.
“If science is back in then abstinence-only-until-marriage is out,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS. “We are hopeful that Congress and the Obama administration will continue to take the necessary actions to support a comprehensive approach to sex education and to end funding for failed programs. The status of sex education in Illinois schools is indicative of the negative impact that too many years of frivolous federal spending on abstinence-only programs has brought forth nationwide.”
[v]“Table 18. Reported and diagnosed cases of HIV infection (not AIDS), by area of residence, 2007 and cumulative—47 states, the District of Columbia, and 5 U.S. dependent areas with confidential name-based HIV infection reporting,” Cases of HIV Infection and AIDS in the United States and Dependent Areas, 2007, Vol. 19, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (18 February 2009), accessed 23 April 2009, <http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/reports/2007report/table18.htm>.