It seems mighty appropriate today that Maine 's state motto is "Dirigo ," or "I lead." The state just joined the small list of U.S. states that have refused federal sex education funding because of strict guidelines on how the money can be spent. The funding—amounting to about $160,000—comes with the requirement that it must be spent on abstinence-only sex ed.
Maine has accepted the federal abstinence-only funds in the past, said Public Health Director Dr. Dora Anne Mills, but the programs the funds covered weren't found to be effective. In the past 20 years, Maine has reduced its teen pregnancy rate by nearly 50 percent, using programs that emphasized contraception as well as abstinence. But since the Bush administration took office, the successful programs were sidelined to make way for the White House-approved message, Mills said:
We were in a position of having to turn our backs on proven programs that we have been using for quite a while, versus accepting these (new) standards that we think may actually be harmful to our children.
Maine now joins the ranks of Pennsylvania, which turned down federal abstinence-only funding starting in 2004, and California, which has never accepted the funds. And on the intern ational front, Brazil refused a $48 million federal AIDS grant in May 2005 because the money came with the stipulation that receiving countries must sign a statement condemning sex workers. Brazilian officials argued they couldn't effectively educate about HIV/AIDS while denouncing sex workers.
The public health officials from Maine, California, Pennsylvania and Brazil deserve props for thumbing their noses at restrictive and ineffective Bush administration policies—and for taking on the challenge of providing their own funding for comprehensive sex ed and HIV/AIDS education programs. In this season of hope and giving thanks, I'm thankful to see we've still got independent thinkers in government positions who refuse to let the Bush administration call all the shots.
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