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2015 Congressional Sex Ed Wrap-Up

December 23, 2015

Congress adjourned for the year on December 18th. While a lot of activity was crunched into the final month of the 114th Congress’ First Session, congressional activity throughout 2015 had significant impacts on the future of sexuality education across the country.

FY 2016 Final Funding
On the final day of the session, the Senate, following an earlier morning vote and passage in the House of Representatives, passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016. The final fiscal year (FY) 2016 Omnibus bill includes level funding for the Office of Adolescent Health’s (OAH) Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) and an increase for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH), but also a doubling of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding through September 30, 2016. SIECUS’ statement is also available here.

  • The OAH TPPP and related program evaluation efforts were level-funded at $101 million and $6.8 million in FY 2016.
  • CDC's DASH received a $2 million increase over last year's funding level, for $33.1 million in FY 2016.
  • Given prior funding proposals in the House and Senate sought to essentially eliminate TPPP and at best, level-fund DASH, these funding victories are due to the thousands of sexuality education supporters who encouraged Congress to protect these adolescent sexual health promotion programs. Through SIECUS Action Alerts alone, more than 1,000 letters were sent to Congress this year. Many thanks to you and to our Congressional champions!
  • Funding for the annually-allocated AOUM was doubled to $10 million in FY 2016.
  • Unlike the previous grant program, the new AOUM funds are no longer tied to the federal eight point definition of “abstinence education,” though still must be used to exclusively implement programs promoting “voluntarily refraining from non-marital sexual activity” and teaching “success sequencing for poverty prevention” (completing school, securing a job, and marrying before bearing children).

New Elementary and Secondary Education Law
On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, the overhaul to the “No Child Left Behind” education law. The new public law (No. 114-95) includes many changes beyond those related to sexuality education, but also resulted in major victories and future opportunities to advance school-based sexuality education. In addition to health instruction being explicitly specified as part of a “well-rounded education,” the new law enables local school districts to use federal funding for teacher-training and instruction on relationship-building skills. The bill was not without compromise, however, and existing language intended to put sexuality education supporters on the defensive was reiterated in a new section of the law.

  • The Every Student Succeeds Act replaced the concept of core academic subjects with “well-rounded education;” courses, activities, and programming of a non-exhaustive list of 18 subjects for states and local school districts to determine as an “enriched curriculum and educational experience.” Notably for sexuality education supporters, the inclusion of health, and the distinction from physical education, as part of a well-rounded education gives states and school districts the opportunity to utilize federal funds for health instruction, which could include sexuality education.
  • Under the new law, local school districts may now also be able to use Title IV funds to support teacher training and instruction of relationship-building skills. Relationship-building skills are defined, though not limited to, instruction for “effective communication, and improve safety through the recognition and prevention of coercion, violence, or abuse, including teen and dating violence, stalking, domestic abuse, and sexual violence and harassment.” This available funding may prove invaluable to states that have recently passed “Erin’s Law” and other sexual violence prevention bills and provides resources for an overlooked, or often thought-of as separate, component of comprehensive sexuality education.
  • Within Title IV of the law, a new “rule of construction” was added that essentially reiterates existing General Prohibitions within the full law, specifying that nothing in the law may be construed to “authorize activities or programming that encourages teenage sexual activity.” Clearly intended to perpetuate misinformation about sexuality education, this language was countered by an additional clarification that it may also not be construed to “prohibit effective activities or programming.” Given the decades of research that demonstrate sexual health information and education beyond abstinence does not promote sexual activity among youth, it is important to note that this is merely a messaging ploy and does not present any real change to existing law and its implementation.  
  • While the Every Student Succeeds Act presents new opportunities to advance sexuality education in schools districts across the country, the flexibility given to states and schools districts around health instruction and relationship-building skills instruction will require district and state-level education from sexuality education supporters. Analysis and implementation of the new education law will be ongoing in the months to come; SIECUS looks forward to providing resources and assistance to ensure these new opportunities are utilized to the fullest extent possible.

PREP & Title V AOUM Programs Extended
As an authorized (mandatory) program, the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) is dependent on a separate legislative process than the annual budget and funding process. In April, 2015, Congress extended both PREP and the Title V AOUM state grant program, also administered by ACF, for two years through FY 2017. These program extensions came at the cost of the first-ever increase, $25 million–a 50% increase, for the Title V AOUM state-grant program.

  • PREP funding was maintained at $75 million per year, the same funding level since the program began in FY 2010.
  • The Title V AOUM state grant program, received a $25 million per year increase to $75 million per year. While there is an unfortunate track record of funding increases for ineffective AOUM programs through multiple funding streams, this is the first ever increase for the 18 year-old mandatory Title V AOUM program.
  • In addition, a prior policy rider was included in the extension of the Title V AOUM program that requires unused Title V AOUM funds be made available to states implementing programs that adhere to the full federal eight-point definition of “abstinence education.” Previously, unused funds were returned to the general treasury.
  • Given the state-match requirements of the Title V AOUM program, this new funding and “double-dip” provision could result in as much as $130 million per year in public dollars wasted on AOUM programs that have consistently proven to be ineffective.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education Legislation
While the PREP, TPPP, and DASH programs are vital federal investments in adolescent health promotion efforts and can support comprehensive sexuality education, they are not and do not solely support comprehensive sexuality education. We are therefore grateful that champions in Congress continue to advance HR 1706, Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA), legislation that would support comprehensive sexuality education. REHYA was introduced by Congresswoman Lee (D-CA-13) in March 2015 and currently has 51 cosponsors.

  • REHYA includes five key sections:
    1. A sense of congress outlining what sex education programs must look like to receive federal funding and restricting funds for programs that fail to meet a minimum standard;
    2. Grants for comprehensive sexuality education for young people;
    3. Grants for comprehensive sexuality education in institutions of higher education;
    4. Grants for pre-service and in-service teacher training for K–12 sex educators; and
    5. Amendments to prior laws enabling education that is non-shaming of LGBTQ students and inclusive of contraceptive distribution in schools.
  • In gaining 51 cosponsors since its introduction on March 26, 2015, the House version of REHYA is well on its way to surpassing prior congressional support levels—there were a total of 66 House cosponsors of the 113th Congress version of REHYA.
  • In addition to SIECUS, REHYA is currently endorsed by the following national organizations: Advocates for Youth; AIDS Alliance for Women, Infants, Children, Youth & Families; The AIDS Institute; Guttmacher Institute; Healthy Teen Network; Human Rights Campaign; National Coalition for LGBT Health; National Center for Lesbian Rights; National Council of Jewish Women; National Health Law Program; National Partnership for Women & Families; and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
  • The Senate companion bill will be introduced in 2016 and there will be more opportunities to help support REHYA in the Second Session of the 114th Congress.

The congressional victories and set-backs wrap-up above doesn't take into consideration other actions throughout the year within the Administration or any of the numerous state and community activities that took place across the country. With this snapshot alone, however, it is clear there are opportunities and challenges ahead in 2016. SIECUS looks forward to working with you, our nation’s educators, advocates, parents, and young people, to continue to advance sexuality education and support the sexual health and well-being of people throughout their lives.

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