Tuesday, April 24, 2007

De-Romnefication of Massachusetts Continues

Today's Globe has the story that Governor Deval Patrick has declined to apply for federal abstinence-only funds, in a departure from the policy former Governor Mitt Romney set just last year. While in the past this money was used for PSAs and supplemental educational material, under Romney, the grant money was funneled almost exclusively to expanding abstinence-only education programs in schools. Governor Patrick's decision to turn down the funds comes as several other states are making the same choice in the face of increasing restrictions on how the money can be spent from the Feds.

Let's be clear. It's not the abstinence part of the program that is objectionable. It's the only. I am very much in favor of a comprehensive program that focuses on abstinence, but also gives teens enough information so that they know what behaviors are more risky than others. The legislature under Romney thought so as well, and required that abstinence-only education be taught in parallel with a separate regular sex education program. Federal restrictions on the grant money prevent the two from being combined, which seems to me to be the best way to teach sex-ed.

What I found curious, however, was the fact that the legislature put the funding for abstinence-only education back in the budget, after Governor Patrick removed it. The Globe details the real reason the legislature has left this in:

Last year and this year, Raymond B. Ruddy -- president of the Gerard Health Foundation, which has given millions to antiabortion and abstinence groups -- hired lobbyist John Bartley to persuade lawmakers to include the funding in the budget for the program. Ruddy paid Bartley nearly $50,000 last year for his work on this single issue.
While Bartley, a former legislator himself, surely has other clients, he did drop almost $10,000 at the feet of candidates and committees in 2006, according to the OCPF. That makes me wonder how many legislators really think that it's effective for students to be given two separate sex-ed classes -- one abstinence only and one comprehensive -- and how many are worried about upsetting the gravy train.

Mass. Liberal has more, as does Ryan.

Update 4/25: Today's Globe makes the following additional point in an editorial today:
It isn't just money that the abstinence-only programs waste. They also waste the students' time, at a point when students, parents, and teachers all complain about the difficulty of finding enough time in the crowded school day for elective academic subjects while also preparing students for the MCAS tests. Sex education should be part of the public school curriculum, but it should be comprehensive and it should not be supplemented or replaced by a singular, ineffective approach to sexuality.