Last year, Mississippi lawmakers mandated sex education be taught in every school district. The state has long held the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. But the promise of sex education may have fallen short when most districts purchased programs that aren’t proven to change student behavior. Critics say, the state will spend millions and get minimal results. In a six month long investigation, the Southern Education Desk conducted dozens of interviews and relied on open records requests to obtain hundreds of documents. SED found an inaccurate curricula approval process and hundreds of thousands of dollars in exclusive grants may have resulted in a payday for a for-profit abstinence education company. Results for students are yet to be seen.
During summer 2012, school districts across the state had to make a choice – either Abstinence Only or Abstinence Plus. While there are many different sex education programs, many in Mississippi see sex education as fitting into one of those two categories. But public health officials see it a different way. To them, it’s not a question of Abstinence Only or Abstinence Plus; it’s a question of evidence-based or not evidence-based.
The committee appointed by the Mississippi Department of Education to evaluate sex education programs for the state’s schools made mistakes in the approval process. Upon further investigation, most members of the committee did not have the expertise necessary to complete the job accurately. About half of school districts are now teaching programs that would not have made the cut had reviews been accurate. The Mississippi Department of Education has not notified schools of the mistake nor have they recalled any programs.
The Mississippi state government has funneled tens of millions of dollars into abstinence initiatives over the years. But Mississippi still has the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country and, critics say, state officials still prefer abstinence-until-marriage, also known as ”Abstinence Only” sex education programs, such as “Choosing the Best” in schools. ”Choosing the Best” received exclusive state contracts (with potential value exceeding half a million) prior to being approved for classrooms. Two “Choosing the Best” teachers sat on the approval committee. While it’s not “evidence-based,” that is doesn’t have a proven track record of changing behavior, it’s now being taught in 2/3 of school districts.