ATLANTA — Georgia stands to lose $1.8 million in health-related funding because state officials refuse to participate in a federal survey that asks students from seventh grade through high school questions about their sexual histories.
The sex questions are part of a nationwide survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Georgia hasn’t allowed them to be asked in its public schools since the 1990s. Three other states – Louisiana, Utah and Virginia – joined Georgia in opting out of the teen sex survey last year.
But this year participation comes with money attached. For the first time, the federal government has tied completing the questionnaires to $1.8 million in grants for programs aimed at preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
A spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal said the governor was uncomfortable about letting the government ask students as young as 12 about whether they use condoms and how many sexual partners they have had.
“Many Georgia parents would object to public schools asking their seventh-grade child these questions, and Governor Deal agrees with them,” Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said. “We don’t think that federal funds for programs should be cut based on the use of these questions, but Governor Deal will refuse federal funds if they come (tied) to policies that run contrary to Georgia values.”
The CDC survey is sent to students across the nation and asks questions on drug abuse, violence, alcohol use and suicidal behavior as well as sex. Students are instructed not to include their names.
Georgia students have long answered the questions on topics other than sex. Jeff Graham, the executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Georgia Equality, said state officials are being shortsighted by turning down money because they’re squeamish about children answering questions about sex. He noted Georgia reported more than 2,500 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2011 – the fifth highest total among U.S. states.
“It’s really unconscionable that the Department of Education would decide they wouldn’t even apply for those funds,” Graham said.
The survey asks high school students whether they have ever had a sexual encounter, how many partners they’ve had, whether they use condoms and whether they drank alcohol or used drugs before intercourse. Middle school pupils get a pared-down list that also asks them about condom use and their total number of sexual partners.
“There were some sensitive questions that many districts have not felt comfortable having students answer in the past, and we wanted to ensure we got reliable results,” said Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for Georgia’s Department of Education. “And there has always been concern that students would not take some of those questions seriously.”