WASHINGTON - Skeptical states are shoving aside millions of federal dollars for abstinence education, walking away from the program the Bush administration touts for curbing teen sexual activity.
Barely half the states are still in, and two more say they are leaving.
About $50 million has been budgeted for this year, and financially strapped states might be expected to want their share. But many have doubts that the program does much, if any, good, and they're frustrated by chronic uncertainty that the program will continue. They also have to chip in state money to receive the federal grants.
Governor Chet Culver of Iowa, a Democrat, made his decision to leave the program based on the congressionally mandated curriculum, which teaches "the social, psychological, and health gains of abstaining from sexual activity." Instructors must teach that sexual activity outside marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.
"It was just too strict," said Emily Hajek, policy adviser to Culver. "We believe local providers have the knowledge to teach what's going to be best in those situations, what kind of information will help those young people be safe. You cannot be that prescriptive about how it has to be taught."
A federal tally shows that participation in the program is down 40 percent over two years, with 28 states still in. Arizona and Iowa have announced their intention to forgo their share of the federal grant at the start of the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
The program was created by Congress in 1996 as part of welfare law changes.
Since 2002, lawmakers have approved 19 short-term extensions, usually for three or six months at a time. But on three occasions, the program was extended for just a few days.
Whatever state officials think of the program's aims, they say it is not consistent enough to budget for employees and to put contracts out to bid.
"The funding stream became inconsistent. We didn't know from one quarter to the next whether we'd be getting the rest of the money," said Elke Shaw-Tulloch of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. "We got to the point where we didn't have any infrastructure to put the money to use. At the same time, there was mounting evidence the abstinence programs weren't proving to be effective."
Some states' officials, such as in Georgia, speak favorably of the program.