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New Washington Law Requires State to Apply for Funds Supporting Proven Interventions

On April 30, 2009, Washington Governor Christine Gregoire (D) signed into law Senate Bill 5629, which requires state agencies seeking federal funding for sexual health education to apply only for grants that fund programs which are medically accurate, effective, and proven interventions. The new law repeals a former state policy that required the Washington Department of Health to apply for Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funding.
Advocates in the state worked on passing the bill for two years following the passage of the Healthy Youth Act. Passed in 2007, the Healthy Youth Act requires every Washington public school that offers sexual health education to ensure that instruction is medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, appropriate for students regardless of race, gender, disability status, or sexual orientation, and includes information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy. The passage of Senate Bill 5629 will complement and support this law, ensuring that federal money would go toward funding effective comprehensive sex education programs that could be provided in schools.
“This bill was really innovative because it allowed us to be proactive in stating what we wanted our state to be doing instead of focusing on what we didn’t want,” said Alissa Haslam, public policy and field director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and a member of the Washington Healthy Youth Alliance, the state’s coalition of comprehensive sex education advocates.
Not only does the new law relieve the state from having to apply for abstinence-only-until-marriage funding, it sets the stage for Washington to apply for funding that may soon become available for effective and scientifically based approaches to sexuality education.
President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposal zeroes out all federal funding for the Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, while allocating at least $170 million to new initiatives with a broader focus than just abstinence-only-until-marriage. Advocates in the state are pleased that the Obama administration is moving toward funding a more comprehensive approach to sex education, but are worried that the focus of the funding as it stands, will not make money available for other needs, such as teacher training. Washington is currently in the process of implanting comprehensive sex education in public schools, but schools are not eligible for the funding proposed in the budget.
Haslam states that for Washington, money is needed to go to schools that would support the implementation process, and not simply focus on one topic of intervention provided by someone other than school staff. “If there was funding available to supplement teacher training, that’s what we would really want,” Haslam said. “There needs to be a commitment to getting teachers up to par with delivering good sexual health education.”
Advocates on the national level, including SIECUS, are working to try to broaden the language for the proposed funding which is currently limited to intervention programs geared toward teen pregnancy, and are also advocating to make such a funding stream available to schools.