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Texas Behind Nation in Sex Education

May 6, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Texas has the third-highest teen birth rate in the country, and the state holds the top spot in repeat teen births. Studies have shown that the public picks up a big portion of the tab for those pregnancies.

A scientific consensus has emerged in the past few decades on what works - and what doesn't - in reducing teen pregnancies. Other than motivating parents to get more involved, says Michael Resnick, director of the University of Minnesota's Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center, the biggest challenge for adults working to reduce teen pregnancies is to avoid getting derailed by policymakers who put ideology before evidence.

"That's why I think all of us who are working with and on behalf of young people really need to be fearless in our presentation of the evidence - to clearly communicate to others what we know about what works and what our young people need."

After more than a decade of federal dollars steered toward "abstinence-until-marriage" programs, which Resnick says have not stood up under scientific scrutiny, he says he's encouraged by the Obama administration's focus on funding proven strategies.

In Texas, the largest recipient of federal abstinence-only dollars, more than 90 percent of school districts rely on abstinence-only instruction, according to a report from the Texas Freedom Network. TFN's president, Kathy Miller, says the state needs to catch up with science.

"The Legislature this year hasn't held even one public hearing on bills promoting responsible, evidence-based sex education that would give teens the information they need to protect themselves and make important life decisions."

Those measures were House Bill 1624 and Senate Bill 852.

Despite a poll showing that 80 percent of likely voters in Texas support the teaching of contraception, along with abstinence, Democratic legislators have been unable to persuade their Republican colleagues to consider evidence-based, sex-education bills in House and Senate committees.

A Department of Health and Human Services presentation on evidence-based prevention is online at 1.usa.gov. The Texas Freedom Network report is online at justsaydontknow.org, and the results of its May 2010 statewide poll are at tfn.org.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX