Leslee Unruh recalls the days not long ago when she and a few colleagues traveled the country like frontier pioneers, urging youth to refrain from sex until marriage as the best protection against unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and the heartaches that come with both.
“We were thinking, why couldn’t we grow? Why couldn’t we get more people to do what we were doing?” says the founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Unruh doesn’t ask such questions anymore.
The once-barren abstinence education frontier is now home to a booming industry, fueled by millions in federal dollars. But that growth has sparked questions from both sides in the abstinence-only debate, namely: Who’s getting the money, and what are they doing with it?
While many of those drawing from nearly $100 million a year in federal abstinence-only funds are long-time activists like Unruh, the grantees include neophyte agencies with little or no track record in providing such services or handling big federal grants, and others that have opposed the very concept – abstinence-only education – that they’re now paid to carry out.
With President George W. Bush pushing to boost federal abstinence education funding to $135 million for fiscal 2003, advocates and foes are ratcheting up their fight over the money.
|Abstinence Education Grantees
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $17.9 million in Special Projects of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS) grants in fiscal 2001. In 2002 it spent $36.1 million on SPRANS grants, of which $19.9 million was for new grants. Following are the SRANS grants awarded in 2001 and 2002.
• Boys & Girls Club of East Central Alabama, Anniston – $88,500
• Alabama Department of Public Health, Montgomery – $661,902
• University of South Alabama, Mobile – $100,000
• Let’sTalk Abstinence Program/Crisis Pregnancy Center, Anchorage, Ala. – $281,149
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration.
The U.S. Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs spent $10.4 million in fiscal 2001 for abstinence education through the Adolescent Family Life Act. In 2002 it spent $11.9 million, of which $7.8 million was for new demonstration grants. Listed below are the grantees for 2002. There were no new grantees in 2001.*
• Alabama State University, Montgomery – $225,000
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration.
Advocates for Youth has teamed with MTV’s Fight for Your Rights campaign, which encourages young people “to support comprehensive sex education” through, among other things, a petition drive urging Congress to stop the funding increase. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) is running a nationwide “No New Money” advertising campaign while pushing for more federal funds for comprehensive sexuality education. Through the urging of SIECUS, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the Family Life Education Act, which would provide $100 million for sex education of youth and parents, in the 107th Congress and plans to re-introduce it in the 108th.
On the other side, abstinence education advocates (led by Unruh, among others) are lobbying Congress to tighten restrictions on the abstinence funds in an effort to stop the money from going to groups they consider to be charlatans, such as Planned Parenthood.
Safe sex advocates “ran from that word ‘abstinence’ as far as they could run and laughed at it, until there were federal dollars,” says Unruh, whose clearinghouse, founded in the 1980s, claims more than 1,260 affiliates. “Seeing these people access those dollars really bothers me.”
Barbara Huberman, director of education and outreach at the D.C.-based Advocates for Youth, charges that many of the abstinence programs appear to be proselytizing religious groups or anti-abortion pregnancy crisis centers with little health and sexuality education experience.
The Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector counters that safe sex advocates are out to destroy the abstinence movement by questioning the funding and casting aspersions on providers. “Bush is willing to have both funding streams,” says the senior research fellow at the conservative Washington think tank. “The other side is unwilling to accept that.”
The battle illustrates what happens when a fledgling movement catches fire and starts getting big government grants.
Fed Financing Grows
The federal government has been slow to embrace abstinence education. For years it funded pregnancy prevention programs primarily through medical and social services legislation, such as Title X of the Public Health Services Act, supported in the 1970s by the Nixon administration. Then came the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) of 1981, also known as Title XX of the Public Health Service Act, which devoted one-third of its funding to promoting “chastity.” But even during the Reagan administration, the government fought teen pregnancy mostly through comprehensive sex education, including condom and birth control pill distribution and abortion counseling.
Meanwhile, U.S. teen pregnancy soared well above the rates of most industrialized Western nations. In 1991, the pregnancy rate for 15- to 19-year-old girls reached a record high of 116.5 per 1,000. The rate was declining by the time welfare reform arrived in 1996.
Among the ideas behind that reform (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act) was reducing the number of poor young women giving birth out of wedlock. As part of the welfare overhaul, and at the urging of lawmakers such as Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), the federal government set aside $50 million a year in state block grants (known as Title V) for abstinence-only education, running from fiscal 1998 through 2002. The states had to provide matching funds, and grantees had to adhere to an eight-point definition of abstinence.
“It was a stealth thing” attached to welfare reform, charges Huberman, who joined comprehensive sex education proponents in a futile attempt to stop the block grants. They settled for a dedication of $6 million to evaluate the programs’ effectiveness.
Abstinence-only advocates, led in Congress by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), weren’t satisfied either. In 2000, they sought more money, using a little known federal discretionary fund: Special Projects of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS). The next year, the government awarded $17.9 million directly to community organizations as nonmatching planning and implementation grants for abstinence education through SPRANS.
The three federal funding streams – the Family Life Act of 1981, the welfare reform act and SPRANS – provided nearly $80 million for abstinence education in 2001, and about $98 million in 2002, according to figures provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“We are trying to ensure abstinence funding becomes equal to family planning funding,” says Peter Van Dyck, associate administrator of HHS’ maternal and child health office. The office budgeted $265 million for family planning (including grants) in 2002.
Many of the organizations winning grants have been pushing abstinence for years – such as Why kNOw of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Several Sources Foundation of Ramsey, N.J., which has received about $800,000 in SPRANS grants. But other recipients are new to abstinence education or have little experience with large federal grants. Some of the awards have prompted criticism from applicants and observers about who got funded and who didn’t.
“The people who have been in the field and doing abstinence education all these years are the ones who the money should go to,” Unruh says.
Neophytes, Converts Join Veterans
Some of the criticism might be chalked up to bickering between philosophical foes. But a random examination of the grant winners does raise questions about how much emphasis was placed on two strong indicators of an organization’s ability to compete for grants and deliver on its promises: its financial health and its track record in the field.
“This is one of my concerns about when the government starts giving out money,” says Kris Frainie, executive director of Why kNOw. “The government … can’t say, ‘Oh no, I know the history of this group.’ It has to deal with what’s on paper.”
For instance, only three of the groups that received SPRANS planning grants in 2001 were able to win implementation grants in 2002 to carry out their plans. (See sidebar below.)
“It’s not as simple as some fly-by-night organization applying for funds,” says Peter C. Van Dyck of the maternal and child health office, which oversees SPRANS. “There have to be signs that they are respectable groups.”
Among the recent recipients of federal abstinence-only funds:
• Boys to Men, Johnson City, Tenn. – Michael and Sherry Marion, therapists in a boy’s group home, founded their husband-and-wife nonprofit as an after-school coaching/mentoring program about seven years ago. With contributions from friends and their church, the Marions bought abstinence education materials and began using them in five schools and their church. Then they competed for a SPRANS planning grant with the help of a friend who was a professional proposal writer.
When the money came, “we quit our other jobs and starting working full-time for Boys to Men,” she says.
Government grants have been key to the group’s growth: Its income went from $11,264 in 1997 to $107,795 in 2001, according to its federal tax returns, with nearly $74,000 of the 2001 income from government grants (mostly state). Then came the $99,224 SPRANS planning grant from HHS in 2002, nearly doubling the group’s previous annual budget. Its current budget is $225,000. “That’s a lot of money,” Sherry Marion says.
“I asked my husband what will we do if we don’t get the [implementation] money. He says, ‘We’ll just do what we can do.’ There will be other avenues that will come.”
• Heritage Community Services, Charleston, S.C. – This 35-year-old nonprofit, long involved in crisis pregnancy intervention, now offers abstinence education in schools and operates a faith-based component involving churches and other religious organizations. It won the state’s entire $1.3 million, five-year abstinence education grant.
Some abstinence education critics, including Advocates for Youth’s Huberman, decry the amount of money Heritage receives. They see a correlation between the group’s government funding and the fact that its executive director is a major player in South Carolina politics who raised money for Bush’s presidential campaign.
“I’d like to know what [Heritage] does for that money. There is no accountability,” says Huberman.
Founder and CEO Anne Badgley says her organization provides programs in 15 counties, 37 cities and 50 public schools. Her staff includes her husband, Gordon, and her daughter, Sally Badgley Raymond.
“You can embarrass me … by saying I have relatives on my payroll,” Badgley snaps. “But we’re getting everybody we can to help us.”
• Planned Parenthood of Northern Michigan, Petosky – Even though it’s part of the national Planned Parenthood federation, which is attempting to halt new abstinence education funding, the group received $127,226 to implement the MERIT (Motivation, Esteem, and Respect in Teens) curriculum, which is supposed to “expand and complement” its How To Say No (HTSN) abstinence program.
Abstinence advocates abhor Planned Parenthood, a long-time supporter of comprehensive sex education and birth control for youth. A recent item in Planned Parenthood of Northern Michigan’s newsletter, headed, “Abstinence-Only Programs,” blasts government funding for such efforts. Further, it says that its How To Say No program is “only one part of a comprehensive school sexuality education curriculum. …
“We encourage all schools which use HTSN to provide education about birth control and condoms, especially for high school students.”
With that philosophy, why did the agency accept federal abstinence funds?
Martha Lancaster, director of community services, says Planned Parenthood has been involved in abstinence education since 1984, but not to the exclusion of comprehensive sex education. She acknowledges, however, that the federal abstinence grant prevents the organization from doing comprehensive sex ed in the program for which it got the money. She notes that the program deals with seventh and eighth graders – “people who for the most part are not sexually active.”
She calls abstinence discussions “an important and appropriate component [of sex education], but in and of itself it is not nearly enough.”
Kids Will Ask Questions
Planned Parenthood is one example of how some funds have gone to groups that see abstinence education as a vehicle for expansion, not as part of the culture war waged by proponents of abstaining from sex until marriage.
Consider the Miami-based Switchboard. Rooted in the counterculture of the 1970s, Switchboard has a 30-year history of family crisis intervention, but has been providing abstinence programs for only four years (around the time the federal government made money available to states), according to June Moran, the organization’s program director. In 2000, Switchboard had revenues of about $2.3 million, according its tax returns. In 2002 Switchboard received a demonstration grant of $225,000 through the Adolescent Family Life Act, which is administered through the HHS Office of Population Affairs.
Asked if the organization also provides comprehensive sex education, Moran says “Well, other issues are always going to come up. We’re dealing with ninth-graders who are sexually active, and they are going to ask questions. We try to answer them, but we always say that abstinence is the surest method.”
It’s not clear if it’s okay under these federal programs to answer youths’ questions about birth control, although some providers believe they can. According to the 2003 guidelines for SPRANS abstinence grants, for instance, “applicants must agree not to provide a participating adolescent any other education regarding sexual conduct in the same setting.” Grantees “must provide signed assurance that any discussion of other forms of sexual conduct or provision of services is conducted in a setting different from where and when the abstinence-only education instruction is being conducted.”
SIECUS President Tamara Kreinin salutes Swithboard’s approach and argues for flexible use of abstinence funds. Abstinence-only advocates want to go the other way, attempting to eradicate concepts like “abstinence first” and “abstinence plus.” Regardless of which way the movement goes, it appears destined to become even more entrenched in Washington.
Just look at what happened in the fatherhood movement.
‘Enormous Growth’ Or Funding Slash?
In the early 1990s, few people were publicly pushing for a strong government role in improving men’s relationships with their children. Now the fatherhood movement has grown into a cottage industry, with increasing federal, state and foundation funding aimed at encouraging responsible fatherhood, providing parental training and encouraging men to marry the mothers of their children. Fatherhood is expected to become even more entrenched in the federal budget now that one of those credited for launching the movement, Wade Horn, is assistant secretary for children and families at HHS.
Speaking at the National Abstinence International Conference in July 2002, Horn previewed his intentions and perhaps those of the Bush administration when he said, “We have to weave the three things together: abstinence, marriage and fatherhood.”
“I think there is going to be enormous growth over the next 10 years,” the Heritage Foundation’s Rector says about the abstinence-only movement.
The picture looks rosy, even though the federal government has not issued a full, independent evaluation of the SPRANS grants or the welfare grants through the states. A five-year longitudinal study of five organizations that received state-awarded grants is being conducted for HHS by Mathematica Policy Research Center, under the direction of Rebecca Maynard, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting senior fellow at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. Mathematica says it will issue the next phase of its evaluation during the first half of this year.
Foes of abstinence-only education use the dearth of evaluations as one of their weapons. “We think we might have enough support [in Congress] to slash funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage,” says Kreinin of SIECUS.
But with Republicans winning control of the Senate in the fall elections and expanding their majority in the House, abstinence education proponents have to like their chances.
Kris Frainie, Director
6181 Vance Rd
Chattanooga, TN 37421
Barbara Huberman, Director
Education and Outreach
Advocates for Youth
1025 Vermont Ave., Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
Tamara Kreinin, President
The Sexuality Information and
130 West 42nd St.
New York, NY 10036-7802
Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow
The Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington DC 20002-4999
Leslee Unruh, Founder and President
801 East 41st Street
Sioux Falls, SD 57105
How a Pro-Life Activist Became A Federal Grantee
The Why kNOw Abstinence Education program based in Chattanooga, Tenn., is the kind of program that conservatives celebrate, because of its strong religious and pro-life connections – just the kind of connections that raise the eyebrows of critics, who argue that the abstinence-only education movement is really a sector of the anti-abortion movement.
“Originally, I was leery of taking federal funds. I worried that there would be strings attached,” says Kris Frainie, creator and director of Why kNOw.
But in 2001 Why kNOw received a $254,530 federal implementation grant under Special Projects of Regional and National Significance, and now Frainie says, “There haven’t been any problems.”
Frainie got started in the youth abstinence movement in the early 1990s, after spending nearly two decades hosting an unofficial “refuge camp” in her home for local troubled kids.
The kids and their parents came looking for help or just a sympathetic ear, having learned about the supportive environment in the Frainie household through Frainie’s three children, AAA Women’s Services (a pregnancy crisis center) or her church. She often counseled girls who were pregnant and children who were causing trouble for their parents.
“I was so tired trying to pick up the pieces of young people’s lives, I said, ‘Let me go see who’s throwing these people in the river,’” she says.
Working through the AAA Women’s Services, which advocates approaches such as adoption instead of abortion for unwanted pregnancies, Frainie decided to take a more formal approach to her unofficial counseling sessions.
“I was approached by our school system. I started going to talk in schools, mostly in health classes,” she says. Calling her program “Birds, Bees and Other Baloney,” Frainie told youths about the dangers of having sex “outside a stable and committed relationship.”
After a few years, she was encouraged by her colleagues at the women’s center and by teachers to write a curriculum based on the information she offered and the experience she had gained during her in-school talks.
Survival at Stake
Initially, Frainie used her own funds to finance her efforts. Then a grant from the MacLellan Foundation in Chattanooga allowed her to work full-time on the staff of AAA Women’s Services. She has also been a consultant to the Tennessee Governor’s Office of Maternal and Child Health and serves on the advisory board of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse.
The program “is outstanding. The kids love it,” says Linda Carter, a physical education instructor at Red Bank Middle School, where Why kNOw was piloted a decade ago. In the beginning, youths were treated to two weeks of instruction using the Why kNOw curriculum. Because of increasing demands from other schools, the instruction has been reduced to one week, with follow-up activities outside the school.
According to Frainie, the program has 52 core client schools, serving more than 25,000 children annually. She says the curriculum, which is developed for youth in the sixth through ninth grades, is being taught in 27 Tennessee counties, 19 states and nine foreign countries.
The Abstinence Clearinghouse says Why kNOw ’s three-day training session for parents, educators and community leaders costs $275, while its curriculum is sold to educators for $95. Frainie says Why kNOw does not charge schools for carrying out the training in the classrooms itself.
Last month, Why kNOw took a significant and risky step when it became a nonprofit on its own, separate from AAA Women’s Services. “We have a different mission. And they serve individuals, and we serve schools,” explains Frainie, whose group also serves youth outside of school settings and in church-based organizations.
The move raises questions about whether small abstinence grantees such as Why kNOw can survive on their own. Frainie plans a $600,000 budget this year, including the SPRANS grant of about $200,000 – leaving her heavily dependent on federal money.
She says she has started private fund-raising and wants to keep government funding to “less than 35 percent” of her overall budget. (At some abstinence programs, government funding accounts for as much as 70 percent of the operating budgets.)
“First, I don’t like entitlement programs. Communities are supposed to help communities,” she says. “The other thing is that I don’t want to see abstinence become a job.”
But it has become a full-time occupation for her. With the increase in federal dollars, even more people are likely to find employment as youth workers in the abstinence-only movement.
– Jonetta Barras
SPRANS Grants: ‘What’s Going On?’
Are abstinence education grants being awarded with insufficient regard to an organization’s actual or potential longevity as a service provider? Are organizations being encouraged to apply so that government conservatives can boast a large interest in the abstinence-until-marriage approach to youth work? Or are organizations simply getting the grants, then discovering that the abstinence education approach doesn’t work for them?
Those are among the questions raised by some of the Special Projects of Regional and National Significance (SPRANS) grants issued over the past two years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In fiscal 2001, 53 groups received SPRANS planning grants (for one year) or implementation grants (usually for three years) for abstinence education. Of the 20 groups that received planning grants that year, only three won one of the 40 implementation grants in 2002.
HHS received “as many as 300 to 350 applications” for implementation grants, says Peter C. Van Dyck, associate administrator for maternal and child health within HHS. Department spokeswoman Laura Griffin says three-quarters of the organizations that received SPRANS planning grants in 2001 applied for implementation grants in 2002.
Among those left out in the second round was the Strategies for Adolescent Guidance Education (S.A.G.E.) Advice Council in Alvin, Texas, which offers continuing education and other training programs for professionals serving adolescents.
On one hand, the nonprofit’s $99,725 planning grant in 2001 highlights how newcomers have quickly come into big abstinence money. S.A.G.E. incorporated the very year that it got the grant. It had operated in 2000 under the Coastal Area Health Education Center, through which it received a Texas state abstinence grant. The organization’s operating budget dropped from $500,000 last year to $285,000 this year, largely because of state grant cuts, according to Executive Director Carol Rand.
On the other hand, Rand calls it “very puzzling” that HHS rejected its subsequent bid for a SPRANS implementation grant.
“Especially since we were told [by HHS officials] we were the highest-scored planning grant,” she says.
Rand, who served on a review panel for implementation grant applications (not her own), says she heard similar stories from other groups. “There were things that left me asking, ‘What is going on here?’”