The White House has announced a pending cut to many of the federally supported programs that help local communities and health organizations curtail teen pregnancy, which went down between 2007 and 2015, despite overall rates that are still high in the US, the New York Times reports.
Five-year grants to local agencies and groups—the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, created by Congress and implemented by the Obama administration in 2010—intended to broaden the approaches taken to change teens’ attitudes toward sex, are going to be ended about two years before they were set to expire. The second round of these grants began in 2015 and will now expire in 2018 instead of 2020, reducing the spending by about $200 million.
The decision was based on an analysis that showed many programs weren’t any better than traditional high school sex ed. That analysis is a little dishonest academically, since the grants weren’t approved on the basis that the new (untested) approaches would actually be better than existing approaches. They enabled evaluation of programs to see if anything worked, kind of like the original motivation for charter schools.
But unlike charter schools, whose main purpose has been derailed by profit motives, the teen pregnancy rates in the US have indeed fallen since the first round of grants went out. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a total of 229,715 babies were born to women aged 15 to 19 years in 2015. That was not only a record low birth rate of 22.3 per 1,000 women in this age group but also a decrease of 8 percent from 2014.
Furthermore, for all but the most stable and economically fit families, a pregnancy while a kid is still in school derails lives. Cutting programs designed to improve US teen pregnancy rates will disproportionately affect poor people, then, so the cuts can be taken as an assault on poor people, leading to an increased likelihood that they will drop out of school and leave more spots in the high-paying workforce for children from families that are wealthy.
The cuts will have a local impact in Baltimore, for instance, where too many students drop out of high school. Baltimore’s health department says it will lose $3.5 million if the cuts go through, amounting to enough money to put 20,000 middle and high school students through a reproductive health program in the city.
“There was no communication about the reason,” The Hill blog quoted Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr Leana Wen as saying. “The notice of the award just stated that instead of a five-year grant, it is now a three-year grant. … We don’t have another way to fill this deficit. This will leave a huge hole in our ability to deliver health education.”
The Big Cities Health Coalition, made up of health officials from 28 major cities, called on the feds to reconsider the decision. “Ending what was intended to be five year TPPP grants two years early is highly disruptive to ongoing work in localities across the country. These cuts will negatively affect the lives of young people currently participating in these programs, and will mean fewer project jobs, fewer trained professionals, and reduced community partnerships,” the group said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
They added that the cuts would “reverse historic gains made in the US in reducing teen pregnancy rates” and “make it difficult to truly understand what practices are most effective in our communities across the nation.”
Many conservative school leaders still hold onto the notion that talking to teens about sex is promoting sexual activity in those teens. Or they believe sex ed should be discussed at home, not in school. For example, a 2016 California law requires students to be taught sex ed in middle and high school. The California Healthy Youth Act requires the teaching of unbiased and medically accurate sex education, including lessons on birth control and abortion. It doesn’t sit well with many parents, like those in the conservative San Joaquin Valley.
“Nobody is pro-teens-having-sex, but we don’t talk about it. It’s still taboo,” the Fresno Bee quoted Kayla Wilson, a sex ed teacher in the Fresno County Office of Education, as saying. “When we talk to them about drugs and alcohol, it’s not because we condone it, it’s because we know that they could cause harm. It’s the same thing with sex. As a community, our goal should be to make sure that our students are getting through high school as well-adjusted, healthy adults. So we need to talk about all the things that could impact that.”