How Gov. Perry Is Failing Texas Teens

Garrett Mize is the Youth Advocacy Coordinator at the Texas Freedom Network and heads up TFN’s Youth Leadership Council, the Texas portion of Advocates for Youth’s Cultural Advocacy and Mobilization Initiative. Garrett writes below about Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s tortured defense of abstinence-only sex education programs.

“It worked for me,” is essentially all that our governor could half-jokingly mutter about the statewide failure of abstinence-only sex education when grilled by the editor-in-chief of the Texas Tribune recently.

Gov. Rick Perry, widely suspected of having presidential aspirations, has been in office since George W. Bush left the Governor’s Mansion back in 2000 (after his own election to the presidency). Gov. Perry is currently the longest-serving governor in Texas history. Unfortunately, this also means his policies on sex education are also the longest-serving in Texas.

The Texas Department of State Health Services recently drafted an application for $4.4 million in federal funding for comprehensive, evidence-based sex education (including information on both the importance of abstinence and contraception) for young people in Texas public schools. This shows us that public health professionals are ready for a change from failed abstinence-only policies that dominate instruction in most Texas public school districts, but their hands are tied by an ideological executive branch.  The Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner, Tom Suehs (a Perry appointee), decided along with the governor’s office that the state should not do this.  Instead, Texas applied for (and is receiving) federal Title V abstinence-only funding yet again, even though ab-only programs have not been shown to be effective.

Keep in mind that Texas has long led the nation in federal abstinence-only funding, yet we have the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and the highest rate of multiple births to teens (teens who have given birth at least twice). Texas also has a high rate of HIV infections among young people. The human toll of failed abstinence-only programs is very serious and very high.

Over a 13-year period, teen births are estimated to have cost Texas taxpayers $15.1 billion. That’s billion with a “b.” That’s a little over a billion dollars in spending per year on teen births, yet most Texas schools — with the support of Gov. Perry — do not teach comprehensive, evidence-based sex education. Comprehensive sex education would be fiscally responsible and is scientifically proven to work in delaying sexual activity, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teens. Gov. Perry can call himself a fiscal conservative, but that label couldn’t be further from the truth. In addition, 80% of Texans support comprehensive sex education, including information about condoms.

I’m not sure whether Gov. Perry actually believes in abstinence-only or not. His smug reply in the video indicates that he may be simply trying to evade a tough question about his record. What’s odd is that he doesn’t even seem to know how to talk about this issue. He seems to be pretty ignorant of the facts, the buzz words or even a coherent conservative argument. Maybe he’s “playing politics” and simply appealing to his base – who knows?  Either way, he is playing politics with the children of Texas — and it’s costly, dangerous politics.