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RapidChat: Wendy Sellers discusses the upcoming federal budget's effect on sex education

Should the proposed federal budget pass this month, the Michigan Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), which helps reduce at risk behaviors that result without sex education, wouldn't receive any additional funding. Why is this important? "Students who don’t learn about sex education are more likely to have sex early, more likely to get pregnant, more likely to get sexual transmitted diseases, and less likely to use condoms and/or contraception," explains Wendy Sellers, President of Health 4 Hire.

Should the proposed federal budget pass this month, the Michigan Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), which helps reduce at risk behaviors that result without sex education, wouldn't receive any additional funding. Rapid Chat sits down with Sellers, President of Health 4 Hire, to discuss this vital issue.
RG: Why do you think it’s important for schools to teach about sex ed, versus leaving it up to the parents?

WS: Both are important. Parents have enormous influence over their children’s sexual behavior and attitudes. Unfortunately, many parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about sex and growing up because their own parents didn’t do such a great job. Parents can teach their kids family and spiritual values that the school can’t. Sex education in school is vitally important for several reasons.

RG: For schools who participate in sexual education, what is the curriculum based on?

WS: Michigan is a local control state, so each school district chooses their own sex education curriculum. Sex education is not required in Michigan, but is allowed. Most Michigan schools teach it because they know it is important and most parents want it taught. Curriculum is based on several things: 1) Michigan laws (required), 2) Michigan’s Health Education Standards (recommended), 3) Best practice (ideal), 4) Research (ideal), 5) student needs (ideal), and 6) National Sexuality Education Standards (ideal). Michigan law has much to say about teaching sex education.

RG: What happens to sex ed in public schools under the pending federal funding changes?

WS: If the PREP funding is changed from a five-year grant to a one-year grant as is proposed, it will not allow programming to improve over five years. With year-to-year funding, it is hard to hire and keep good staff, evaluate programming effectively, and implement programming with consistency. Five-year funding supports more stable programming.

RG: What does research show — in terms of risk behaviors — that result without sex education?

WS: Students who don’t learn about sex education are more likely to have sex early, more likely to get pregnant, more likely to get sexually transmitted diseases, and less likely to use condoms and/or contraception.

RG: Even with the appropriate funding, many West Michigan schools fail to touch upon sexual consent, communication, and sexual assault education. What’s being done to change this?

WS: Michigan has a statewide network of regional school health coordinators who work with schools to encourage them to include these topics in their sex education programs. Michigan also has advocates who are working to get Michigan laws changed to require these topics. Education of parents and educators is important. 

RG: Why has the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP), previously funded at $101 million, been reduced to $0 with the projected FY19 presidential budget?

WS: This administration dislikes anything started by the previous administration. Since TPPP was initiated during Obama’s terms, they want to stop it. Also, they have a strong dislike of evidence-based programs. They have tried to gut TPPP, shorten the grant term, and change it to abstinence-only. None of that has worked so far, but advocates are continuously monitoring the use of these funds and working to keep it in place.

RG: Why are the projected budgets for HIV School Health leaning in favor of local programming, versus at the state level?

WS: The CDC supports local decision-making for programming. They also look for ways to spend less money to make it go farther. Since the CDC is federally funded, they need to maintain a low profile. They rely on advocates to ask for additional federal funding.

RG: Is there less of a need to generate awareness surrounding HIV?

WS: No. While the numbers of new HIV infections in youth have decreased in recent years, 21 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2016 were youth aged 13 to 24. It is true that we have more effective treatments for people living with HIV and a medicine (PrEP) that is very effective in preventing infections, but young people will only benefit from those if they are taught about them and if they get tested. Young people still account for 75 percent of STDs and those are transmitted the same ways HIV is transmitted, so we need to continue to educate about all STDs, including HIV. Incidentally, when we reduce HIV infections, we also reduce unintended pregnancies.

Advocacy for sex education-related funding is needed between now and spring 2019 when the next round of funding decisions will be made.

Jenna Morton is the RapidChat correspondent for Rapid Growth Media.
 
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