Wisconsin is facing a jobs crisis. The state’s official unemployment rate, down to 7.1 percent in January, has risen to 7.8 percent since Republican Gov. Scott Walker took office. But Walker and the GOP-led Legislature have a plan: First, they curtailed collective-bargaining rights and threatened to lay off government workers, including teachers, cops, and firefighters. Then Walker called a special jobs-focused session of the Legislature, which he dubbed “Back to Work Wisconsin,” to pass even more “job-creating” laws. At the top of the jobs agenda? Gutting the state’s sex ed standards and replacing them with abstinence-only education.
A bill launched during Walker’s jobs session and nearing passage in the Legislature would repeal significant portions of the state law that requires schools to provide comprehensive, scientifically accurate, and age-appropriate sex ed. On Wednesday, the state Assembly’s education committee is scheduled to consider whether it should join the Wisconsin Senate, which approved the bill on November 2, in voting for repeal. Republicans hold big majorities on the education committee and the Assembly overall, so the bill is expected to pass easily.
“They say nothing’s a bigger priority than the economy and jobs,” says state Rep. Gordon Hintz, a Democrat who sits on the committee that will take up the repeal bill on Wednesday. “But the legislation that’s actually passed has been the ultimate social agenda.”
Republicans hope to remove the part of the current law, also known as the Healthy Youth Act, that requires schools to teach about “the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods” in discussion of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The repeal legislation also strikes a portion of the law that recommends schools teach about “puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image, and gender stereotypes.” Instead, the new law would require instructors to “identify the skills necessary to remain abstinent” for their students.
Previous attempts at teaching Wisconsin students “the skills necessary to remain abstinent” have failed spectacularly. A study released in 2009 by the state’s Division of Public Health found that 45 percent of Wisconsin’s teenagers said they are sexually active. Nearly 40 percent of them said that they had not used a condom the last time they had sex. “We knew what the problem was,” says Lisa Subeck, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. “The problem was that we have teens engaging in unprotected sex and risky behavior.”