Saturday, January 22, 2000

Sex-ed money debate snarled

Federal health funds may remain unspent

Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Nearly $1 million in federal health funds may never be spent in Ohio because lawmakers deadlocked on a decision to spend $90,000 on sex education.

        After hours of emotional testimony Thursday and Friday, members of a joint House and Senate committee failed to vote on a plan to free up a $974,490 grant for spending. A happy Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said he now doubts a vote will ever be taken.

        “No decision is the same thing as a victory,” Mr. Jordan said. “This money doesn't get spent unless this committee votes to do that, and that isn't going to happen.”

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        Last year, Mr. Jordan helped pass a law freezing the funds after moral and religious groups complained. The groups were upset that the Ohio Department of Education planned to spend $90,000 in grant money on HIV and AIDS prevention programs that stress the use of contraceptives as much as abstinence.

        Committee leaders had hoped to pass a compromise limiting the money to fund abstinence-only programs. But Democratic lawmakers objected, saying sexually active teens should be taught how to use contraceptives to help protect themselves.

        Then conservative Republicans also balked at the compromise.

        Groups such as the Ohio Family Alliance (OFA) say the grant is part of an overall federal agenda to make schools adopt sex-ed programs encouraging use of contraceptives and premarital sex. They want the state to send all of the money back.

        State documents show most of the $974,490 would be spent to improve school health plans; pay for cancer, heart disease and diabetes prevention programs; and make dental services more available to needy students. The groups and Mr. Jordan said the state can't be trusted to spend the money as promised.

        Committee Chairman Rep. Charles Brading, R-Wapakoneta, said he thinks his compromise can still pass. He did not say how or when.

        “I wouldn't call this issue dead,” he said. “Hopefully, we can receive some more input from committee members.”

        Mr. Jordan predicted his odd coalition of Democrats and conservative Republicans will keep the money from being spent.

        That news came as a disappointment to Dr. Joseph Rauh, who had urged lawmakers to release the funding Thursday. Dr. Rauh is a co-founder of Postpone Sexual Involvement, a sex-ed program formed from a 10-year partnership between Cincinnati Public Schools and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        “The state of Ohio will suffer from the lack of these funds, because the Legislature doesn't have the courage to deal with a small portion of it,” he said. “I think it's a tragedy.”

        Jane Hoffman, a Cincinnati board member of the OFA, was also unhappy. She said she wanted the committee to vote to reject the funds.

        “This means we'll have to come back here next year and object to the next grant,” she said. “I'd call this a conditional victory.”


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