Washington Governor’s Advisory Council on AIDS Asks Locke To Reject Abstinence-Only Federal Education Funds
The Washington Governor's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS last month sent a letter to Gov. Gary Locke (D) asking him to reject federal funding for "Teen Aware," an educational program that teaches abstinence as the only prevention method for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the Seattle Times reports. Judith Billings, chair of the council, wrote in the letter to Locke that the federally funded program does not "give students complete information that they need to help them make responsible choices about their sexual activity," adding that "[t]o deny them a balanced program that offers life-saving knowledge is irresponsible." The state has received approximately $739,000 annually since 1997 from the federal government for "abstinence-based" education for high-school or middle-school students. State law requires that state officials reapply each year for the federal grant and match the grant with approximately $554,000 in state funds. The program, supported by President Bush, mandates that students be taught that abstinence outside of marriage is the "expected standard." Legislation authorizing new funding for the program also contains language requiring that condoms or other contraception not be discussed; that a monogamous relationship is expected in marriage; that sexual activity outside of marriage is "likely to be psychologically and physically harmful"; and that having children outside of marriage is "likely to be harmful to the child, parents and society," the Times reports.
In the letter, the council told the governor that such statements "are (about) ideology, not scientifically stated facts." Victor Colman, a policy analyst for the state Department of Health, said that state law would have to be changed to allow the governor to refuse the federal money and that Locke would "carefully examine" any changes in program requirements before rejecting the funds, according to the Times. Chuck Kuehr, executive director of the Seattle-based Lifelong AIDS Alliance, said he would encourage other AIDS groups to sign the letter and that the organization also plans to urge Locke to reject the federal funds. While some teachers and students in the state said that the program "offers an alternative" to the "promiscuity widely presented" in the media and that stopping the program "would indicate that government officials don't really care about the issue," council members said that the program is "inadequate" and "biased." About 50 schools and four community-based programs receive the federal funds for abstinence-based programs and about 1,300 children statewide participate in the voluntary programs (King, Seattle Times, 12/23).