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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Guest Commentary

Evidence-supported approach to sex education is needed in Texas


We’re confused. We thought conservative policy-makers oppose wasteful federal programs and want taxpayer dollars to go only to programs that work. Yet, Gov. Rick Perry opposes federal funding for programs that require evidence of effectiveness in favor of policies already proven to be ineffective by a 10-year congressionally mandated evaluation.

The reasons underpinning this contradiction become a bit clearer once one realizes that the issue is sex education, a subject that often makes policy-makers ignore evidence — not to mention basic common sense. Following discussions with Perry’s office, state officials have twice — in less than a year now — nixed applications for federal funding for Personal Responsibility Education Programs. PREP requires sex education projects to be evidence-based effective programs. Yet  Perry continues to embrace federally funded Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that have been found to have no impact on teen behavior.

Compounding the already fiscally irresponsible policy is the fact that Title V requires a state match while the PREP program does not. This means recipients have to fork over an additional three dollars, or equivalent in-kind services, for every four Title V dollars that come into the state.

This politics over evidence approach not only ends up throwing good money at bad programs, but also puts the health and well-being of young people at risk. Title V programs prohibit spread of information about the prevention of pregnancy and disease such as information regarding condoms and birth control. Denying young people complete, medically accurate information about sexual health is promoting ignorance in the AIDS era.

Child-bearing teens cost the state $1.1 billion per year. Nationally, that figure is $10 billion. In Congress, many of the most ardent proponents of deficit reduction are also supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, a given due to the importance of these programs to religious conservatives. Yet, one cannot be a credible deficit hawk when one turns a blind eye to failed federal programs just because they appeal to your ideological base. That’s not authentic deficit reduction; that’s playing politics at the expense of public health.

Young people have a right to comprehensive sexual health information. Providing such education and information is one of the most important ways to help young people take personal responsibility for important life decisions. Demanding responsible behavior from young people while at the same time denying them the knowledge necessary to act responsibly is hypocritical.

The evidence and science demonstrate that comprehensive sex education programs that include information about abstinence, condoms and birth control help young people who are sexually active to protect themselves and delay the decision to have sex in the first place. In other words, evidence-based programs are more effective at promoting abstinence than abstinence-only programs.

It’s certainly disappointing that  Perry and other Texas politicians haven’t shifted course on sex education. Still, the authors of the PREP legislation had the foresight to include a clause mandating that the funds become available to individual non-profit organizations if state policy-makers fail to seek them after two years. In addition, polling shows that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas support teaching about condoms, contraception and abstinence in public schools. So change is coming, even if Perry is slow-walking it.

Students at the University and other college campuses across the state are already pushing that change by mobilizing young people in support of an evidence-based approach to sex education. It’s encouraging to know that even if state policy-makers chose to place ideology over evidence and the health of young people, a new generation won’t make the same mistake.

James Lee is the president of the Texas Freedom Network Student Chapter, University of Houston; Debra Hauser is the executive vice-president of Advocates for Youth. They may be reached at [email protected]

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