Back To School: With Sights on White House, Pawlenty Sacrifices Minnesota Teens

Aspiring to be the next Republican nominee for President, Governor Tim Pawlenty puts political aspirations over helping Minnesota children grow up healthier and safer.

As children around the nation head back to school, Rewire is covering new developments in sexual health education.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty hasn’t officially announced his 2012 presidential run yet, but all signs are there.  The governor shocked few when he announced his decision not to run for a third term, preferring to concentrate on “other things.”  Since then he has been traveling the country, fundraising for both his PAC and a variety of conservative causes, and has translated most of his decisions for governing the state into how they might best look to those who would be voting in the GOP primary, rather than how they would benefit the state.

There is no better example than Pawlenty’s recent announcement to reject a $850,000 federal grant to provide comprehensive sex education in Minnesota schools.  Instead, he has announced that he will accept a different grant which will saddle the schools with ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs — programs that will require the state to shell out nearly $400,000 in its own funding at a time when it is facing one of the biggest budget deficits in its history.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty has rejected a federal teen pregnancy prevention grant worth $850,000, with no strings attached, while giving his approval for $500,000 in abstinence-only money that will cost the state $379,000 in matching funds.

The Minnesota Department of Health wanted to apply for both grants, which are funded through the federal health care overhaul passed in March, said state Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan. Pawlenty, a longtime supporter of abstinence-only sex education, chose to submit just one application to the federal government, she said.

A spokesman for Pawlenty said the governor turned down the larger grant because “he is striving to find ways to stop” the implementation of health reform in Minnesota, even though both grants were funded by the health care legislation.

The state of Minnesota is facing a serious crisis when it comes to adolescent sex and sexually-transmitted diseases.  A recent report shows that sex trafficking is on the rise in the state, the state is experiencing an epidemic of chlamydia outbreaks, HIV infection is at its highest level since 1992, and far too many teens are still getting pregnant every year.

Still, Pawlenty knows exactly who his base is, and it’s Tom Pritchard and the Minnesota Family Council, who told the Star Tribune,

“It’s better to spend no money on sex education if it’s going to have a condom message.  You are pouring fuel on the fire.”

Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPP), a group that actually deals day in and day out with attempting to prevent pregnancy and STI’s, especially among teens of color, pointed out that the governor is simply playing politics with teen lives.  From a blistering MOAPP release responding to the funding news:

“There’s been a concern in the field that Governors across the country would use these funding opportunities to rack up political points instead of putting young people’s futures first,” said Brigid Riley, Executive Director of MOAPPP, the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting. “It appears that that’s what is going on in Minnesota. Why else would you turn down almost a million dollars for youth programs that require NO MATCH, but take funding for failed programs that require a 75% MATCH?”

Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota was just as shocked by Pawlenty’s decision. CEO Sarah Stoesz commented via release:

“It defies logic that the governor of a state in a budget crisis would turn away nearly a million dollars in federal funding for services that are profoundly needed across Minnesota. Minnesota’s young people are in the midst of an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections, with rates rising to historic levels.”
“The federal government is now committed to fully funding programs that work. Governor Pawlenty is refusing those funds in favor of failed abstinence-only policy that will cost the state of Minnesota nearly $400,000.”

It’s not surprising that despite a budget deficit so large that the governor decided to remove low-income adults from the state safety net health-care plan to try and cover some of it, Pawlenty still would choose to throw money away on unproven, ineffective programs that pander to his anti-choice base.  After all, the state has been handing out nearly $10 million in funding to the “Positive Alternatives Act,” an “abortion alternatives program” that in essence appears to be little more that a way for the state to funnel money to anti-choice groups and centers.

According to Lifenews, the $4.7 million provided for the July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010 cycle, assisted 13,037 women, breaking down to a total assistance of $360 per woman.  A list of the “assistance” paid for by these funds makes it fairly clear that a majority of the money is not going to the women to actually financially help them care for their children, but to anti-choice groups to provide parenting seminars, home visits, mentoring, nutrition programs, 24-hour information lines, and a large amount of undetermined “support services.” 

Less than one quarter of the organizations claim to provide some form of medical care to women (a service desperately needed thanks to the governor’s eligibility cuts to the state medicaid program), and even less offer financial assistance, housing help or daycare assistance. As the reporting requirements on the grants have been lax at best, and non-existent at worst, there is no current record of how much money actually goes to support women continuing their pregnancy, versus keeping anti-abortion charities well-funded.

The governor has never had any qualms about putting his higher office ambitions and his desires to appease his base over the well-being of the state, and this decision to actually spend money in order to promote a failed sex ed agenda is just another reminder of that fact.