Wisconsin’s Share

Soon after passage of the national welfare reform law in 1996, federal abstinence- only money began to flow to every state in the nation except California, which deemed abstinence-only education ineffective. Wisconsin has received $795,859 a year since 1997, according to Annie Miller, director of the Wisconsin Abstinence Education Project. The project was established to enable Wisconsin to provide educational programs, mentoring, and counseling that promote abstinence from sexual activity.

Wisconsin’s share of the federal money, Miller said, is currently being channeled through the state’s Department of Health and Family Services in the form of grants to 12 community-based organizations – including six in the Milwaukee area – to run abstinence-only programs. She estimates that between 10,000 and 15,000 students a year receive services under these programs. Although the grants run out in February, Miller is confident funding will be renewed.

According to Miller, abstinence-only programs here most often supplement school districts’ own curricula on health and human development. Wisconsin state law “encourages” teaching about human growth and development but leaves decisions about the content of such programs up to local school districts. In 1993, a total of 89 percent of districts reported offering some type of sex education curriculum. Miller said the state did not track how many offered programs that could be considered comprehensive.

Abstinence-only initiatives currently being funded in Wisconsin include programs in Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, and LaCrosse that use the Postponing Sexual Involvement curriculum. According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Postponing Sexual Involvement is one commercial abstinenceonly curriculum that delivers its message without resorting to fear or shame. At some Milwaukee Public Schools, students can sign up to take part in Best Friends, Best Men, or Diamond Girls, national youth development programs that promote abstinence from sex, drugs, and alcohol through peer support and one-on-one mentoring. (See related story)

Additional statewide abstinence projects include a newsletter, annual conference, annual abstinence writing contest, and the creation of supportive materials such as posters and pledge cards and public service announcements.