Longform

Abstinence-only funding was refused, but that didn't stop a state school-board member

Girls' brains are like spaghetti, boys' brains are like waffles...boys tuck schoolbooks under their arms at the waist, girls cradle theirs like a baby...boys were made to pursue girls and girls were made to wait to be pursued by boys...we have an entire generation of girls looking for daddy love...you just have to get that viable sperm close to her vagina and she turns on the little Hoover vacuum, because girls are very, very fertile...

— from a video of a 2009 WAIT Training assembly at Loveland High School

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In 2007, Governor Bill Ritter took a big step toward ensuring that Colorado kids would get comprehensive sex education by signing HB 1292 into law. The measure requires that, in addition to addressing the benefits of abstinence in eliminating STDs and teen pregnancy, in-school sex-education programs must also supply evidence-based, medically accurate information on the use of condoms and other contraceptives.

Study after study has revealed the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only programs in reducing the number of teen pregnancies and reducing the spread of disease. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, virginity pledges, a staple of abstinence-only programming, not only did not decrease occurrences of teen STDs, but actually resulted in pledge-takers not seeking medical attention once infected, leading to an increased possibility of transmission.

Abstinence-only programs come under fire for questionable instructional methods and curricula as well. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) periodically releases in-depth reviews of abstinence-only programs and regularly finds that they often rely on messages of fear and shame to encourage abstinence and promote biased views of gender, marriage and pregnancy options.

Yet Americans have spent more than $1.5 billion on abstinence-only programs over the past fifteen years through Title V of the Social Security Act and other federal legislation. The programs really flourished under President George W. Bush, who created an injection of funding with his Community Based Abstinence Education grants. President Barack Obama did away with this funding stream, but during the fight in Congress over health-care reform, Republicans put $250 million for abstinence-only programs into the Affordable Healthcare Act.

The funds — now being distributed throughout the country — were made available on a non-competitive, state-by-state basis through Title V. All a governor had to do was say that he or she wanted abstinence funding, and a scaled dollar amount was provided to the state. Ritter declined the reported $3.2 million in abstinence-only funding available to Colorado, electing instead to seek funding for comprehensive sex education through the federal Personal Responsibility Education Program. Colorado was awarded approximately $793,000 in PREP funds each year from 2010 through 2014.

But a member of the State Board of Education, operating without board approval, decided to make an end run around the governor and bring the Title V funding to Colorado anyway.

That money is now paying for abstinence programs to go to public school auditoriums, training conferences, churches and community centers throughout Colorado, spreading the message that abstinence-only-until-marriage is the only way to have disease-free, worthwhile sex.

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On August 25, 2010, Peggy Littleton, then one of the seven members of the Colorado Board of Education, sent an e-mail to then-Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones, stating, in part:

"Give me a call to discuss so that we may move forward as quickly as possible to capture funding.... I will be happy to stop by before another meeting I have in Denver, or have Mrs. Mackenzie stop by CDE today, to pick up the letter..."

The letter was one that Littleton believed the Colorado Department of Education could provide, enabling the board to go for Title V funding even if Ritter had decided against it. Via return e-mail, Jones's office advised Littleton that it couldn't act counter to the governor's wishes and that the CDE could not produce the letter she wanted.

The Mrs. Mackenzie to whom Littleton refererred is Joneen Mackenzie, a nurse who is founder and president of Denver-based WAIT (Why Am I Tempted?) Training. This abstinence-only organization has used over $8.3 million in federal funding since 2005 to implement its training throughout the United States and around the world — and Littleton has worked closely with the group.

Originally from Nebraska, Littleton moved to Colorado with her family when she was just four years old. She graduated from Colorado State University, married, home-schooled her three children, and held faculty positions at Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy and Colorado Springs Christian School. Governor Bill Owens appointed her to be director of Colorado GEAR UP, a program designed to ready low-income students for college. In 2004, she ran for the Colorado Board of Education in the conservative fifth congressional district, which includes Colorado Springs.

Littleton is known for her proud conservatism. During the 2004 election cycle, she and state representative Amy Stephens ran for delegate slots as "Blond Babes for Bush," a distinction that earned Littleton an interview with Fox News pundit Sean Hannity. In 2008, she was appointed to the "Palin Truth Squad," part of the McCain campaign's efforts to fight Palin "smears."

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Andy Kopsa
Contact: Andy Kopsa