01 September 2010

Minnesota Governor Rejects Sex-Ed Funding

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty has decided that his state doesn't need federal money for sex education -- unless, that is, it's used to spread the "abstinence-only" message.

The Minnesota Star-Tribune reports that Pawlenty has rejected a teen pregnancy prevention grant from the federal government worth $850,000 because it would have required the state to teach medically accurate comprehensive sex ed (which, yes, includes mention of condoms and other contraceptive measures).

Instead, the Governor instructed the Minnesota Department of Health to apply only for funds earmarked for abstinence-only education -- $500,000 worth, in fact, which comes with a requirement that the state match those funds to the tune of $379,000.

Pawlenty claims that he rejected the larger sum of federal money because it's tied to President Obama's health care reform package, which Pawlenty a Republican) opposes. That could make some kind of sense, except... the abstinence-only money is a provision of the exact same health care package.

Whatever Pawlenty really feels about health care reform, his decision to reject federal money for comprehensive sex ed is clearly not about that. It's about bolstering the abstinence-only movement in his state -- and, some would argue, about shoring up his own right wing bona fides for a purported presidential run in 2012.

It may actually be a shrewd move on Pawlenty's part, one that will play exceptionally well to his party's base. But who pays the price for this calculation, whatever may be motivating it? The millions of teens in Minnesota who will now be deprived of comprehensive sexuality education. With rates of teen pregnancy and STIs on the rise in Minnesota (and well above national averages), the last thing the young adults in this state needed was for their governor to cut off funding that would have taught them the real deal about their sexual health -- and literally saved their lives in the process.

The situation in Minnesota may be staggering, but the teens in this state are not the only ones suffering. A provision of the health care bill passed this Spring restored nearly $250 million in abstinence-only federal funding; as we speak, states across the nation are applying for those funds -- sometimes along with funds for comprehensive sex ed, and sometimes, as in Minnesota, without them.

At the Ms. Foundation, we know that access to comprehensive, medically-accurate sexuality education is fundamental to the health and well-being of women, youth and their communities. That is why we continue to invest in grassroots organizations working to bring age-appropriate, medically-accurate sexuality eduction to communities nationwide.

Learn more about how we're working at the state and local level to counteract policies and programs -- like those now making waves in Minnesota -- that disrespect our youth and put their lives in danger. And read Ms. Foundation staffer Sunny Daly's take on why, 50 years after the release of the birth control pill, sex education is more important than ever.

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