Reproductive rights groups chastised Gov. Tim Pawlenty Monday for refusing federal money for comprehensive sex education in exchange for abstinence-education funds that will cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars. Advocates say Pawlenty’s decision to opt for the more expensive – and controversial – program arises from his presidential ambitions and not the best interests of the state.
Pawlenty had until Monday to apply for the federal Personal Responsibility Education Program, which provides $55 million in funding for comprehensive sex education programming in the states. Minnesota’s share would have been $850,000. But, Pawlenty turned down that money and applied Minnesota for the Title V State Abstinence Education Grant Program instead. The Title V program will require Minnesota to put up $379,307 in state funds in order to get $505,743 in federal funding.
Reproductive health advocates say the decision will set Minnesota back, not only financially but also in terms of sex education.
“We are outraged Gov. Tim Pawlenty is willing to continue to play games with the lives of Minnesota youth,” Linnea House, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota told the Minnesota Independent on Monday. “During a time of tremendous budgetary challenges for our state, the governor has once again shown that he will put political games ahead of sound policy recommendations.”
She said Pawlenty is denying the state almost $1 million to support evidence-based sex education in exchange for “programs that have no proven successful in the past.”
In 2007, state officials found the federal funding for abstinence to be lacking and quietly dropped the program. The state opted out after federal guidelines mandated that the state teach that “sex outside of marriage was psychologically and physically harmful” and restricted any conversation about contraceptives.
House said that Pawlenty continues to “ignore the rising HIV and Chlamydia rates affecting young Minnesotans.” She added, “In effect, Pawlenty is turning his back on our youth, and his decision will have a profound impact upon the future of Minnesota youth.”
The Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP) suggested that Pawlenty’s decision was based on politics.
“There’s been a concern in the field that governors across the country would use these funding opportunities to rack up political points instead of putting young people’s futures first,” said Brigid Riley, the group’s executive director. “It appears that that’s what is going on in Minnesota. Why else would you turn down almost a million dollars for youth programs that require no match, but take funding for failed programs that require a 75 percent match?”
Planned Parenthood president and CEO Sarah Stroez agreed: “It defies logic that the governor of a state in a budget crisis would turn away nearly a million dollars in federal funding for services that are profoundly needed across Minnesota.”
A MOAPP statement released Monday said, “More than 30 years of peer-reviewed research supports the fact that when young people learn the importance of waiting to have sex AND about preventing pregnancy and disease, they wait longer before having sex, have fewer partners, and use condoms and contraception more effectively when they finally become sexually active.”
“A lot fewer Minnesota teens will get this message as a result of this decision,” the group added.