Some providers of sexual abstinence programs in Texas schools are cutting back their operations because $50 million in federal funds for abstinence promotion quietly expired last week.
Despite an 11th-hour extension of funding until Dec. 31, the effect is still "devastating," said Mike Goss, president of the faith-based, nonprofit Abstinence America program that operates in Houston schools. "It's going to wipe out programs far and wide."
However, the impact in Central Texas classrooms will likely be minimal. And statewide, abstinence will still be taught, though some private agencies may no longer offer the curriculum in some school districts. Goss said he has scaled his program back from 16 Houston area schools to four schools.
States were informed this week they could receive the stop-gap funding if they apply quickly to the federal government. Officials with the Texas Department of State Health Services said they haven't decided whether to do so.
Texas receives the largest share of federal abstinence grants, about $4.7 million a year, through a program known as Title V. The money goes to more than 50 instructional programs, most of them offered by a mini-industry of private groups that contract with various school districts. The programs match every $4 in federal funds with $3 of their own, according to state officials.
The Texas Education Agency requires public high schools to teach abstinence as the "preferred choice" to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Each school district decides how and when that instruction will take place, and whether a contractor will provide it.
Congress enacted the Title V grant program in 1998, but it has recently come under increasing criticism. Eight states, including California, New Jersey and Wisconsin, have rejected the funding, opting instead to put money into comprehensive sex education that allows them to put more emphasis on condoms and other forms of birth control.
If federal abstinence money ends for good in December, supporters may ask the state to step in.
Legislators say it's too soon to tell what will happen. However, it is typically the federal government's job to pay for the programs that it starts, said state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, a member of the House Appropriations Committee on Health and Human Services.
Both she and another committee member, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Fulshear, say they need more hard numbers on the programs' effectiveness.
Zerwas said he supports abstinence-based education.
"But at the end of the day, we hold our agencies accountable and unless we can see some evidence that these types of programs are having this impact for what they're intended to do, it becomes difficult for us as a committee to continue funding them," Zerwas said. "If they're not, I'm willing to accept that as much as anybody else."