S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.0909.sexed.htm

Middle ground on sex education might have big payoffs
By Andy Brack, Publisher

SEPT. 9, 2007 - - Many statistics about the state's teenagers cause concern:

  • School dropout rates here are among the highest in the nation with as many as half of students who start the ninth grade not finishing the 12th grade in four years.

  • One of the top reasons teen-aged girls drop out of school is because they become pregnant (31 percent), according to the National Dropout Prevention Center at Clemson University.

  • More South Carolina high school students (56 percent) have sexual intercourse than the national average (46.7 percent), based on a 2003 survey.

  • The birth rate for South Carolina teen-aged females in 2000 was 59 out of 1,000 - down from 65 in 1,000 in 1988, but still higher than the national average of 48 in 1,000. In 2006 according to the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, some 9,543 South Carolina girls from 10 to 19 were pregnant and had 7,587 babies.

  • While the teen pregnancy rate in South Carolina has dropped in recent years, it is still four to six times higher than that of the Netherlands, Germany and France, according to the Campaign.

So if a big reason that teen-aged girls are dropping out of school is related to being pregnant and if pregnancy rates are still above average, doesn't that suggest that doing more to curb pregnancy rates will lower the school dropout rate?

Charleston activist Janet Segal thinks so. And she thinks better sex education in the school might be a key to cutting pregnancy and dropout rates - which more than likely would have the added effect of lowering the number of unwanted children and cutting abortion rates.

The state law that guides sex education, the Comprehensive Health Education Act, isn't horrible, says Segal and others. But while it mandates at least 750 minutes of instruction on reproductive health and pregnancy prevention, school districts across the state today often focus more on teaching abstinence than about birth control.

"If we were to teach science-based sex education in the schools and talk about birth control and have it available and accessible, then we would see the rates dropping even further," she said, pointing also to lower birth rates and abortion rates in European countries. "They're doing something right over there. We're repressing sexuality. We're hiding information."


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Heritage Community Services in Charleston focuses on abstinence education. Its programs, which have received more than $12 million in state and federal funding since 1995, are a "logic model that addresses the risky behavior of adolescents from the perspective of changing the behavior that is causing the problem rather that dealing with the consequences of the risky actions," according to its Web site.

CEO Anne Badgley said the organization, which some South Carolina school districts have used to provide sex education, doesn't really focus on birth control options. Talking to kids about abstinence, she says, has helped drop pregnancy rates in ways that earlier prescriptive education focusing on contraception didn't.

Still, she said she wasn't opposed to others teaching about birth control methods.

"I do not have a problem with teaching about contraception according to state law, but there needs to be sensitivity" to using language appropriate to children, she said.


State Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, says there's been a long struggle in world views over how to teach sex education. He says conservatives like him want to teach about right and wrong behavior with moral overtones, while others seem to want to let kids make their own decisions - - a "relativist approach" that undercuts messages about abstinence.

There is no real "safe sex," he argues, other than refraining from it. Condoms and other birth control devices provide "safer sex," but aren't foolproof.

"I wouldn't want to jump out of a plane with a parachute that opened 95 percent of the time and that is the consequence of an unwanted pregnancy," he said.

Still, Campsen, like Badgley, says he isn't opposed to education about contraception - - if abstinence is stressed and not given lip service. And interestingly, Segal isn't opposed to educating kids about abstinence - if contraceptive options aren't given similar lip service.

Bottom line: Sex education is an issue that has polarized politicians for years, but perhaps folks who you might not think would ever agree are actually closer to a livable middle ground. One thing is for sure: if students got better and more information about sex, perhaps they wouldn't engage in as many risky behaviors - which might lead them to be able to stay in school.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, can be reached at: brack@statehousereport.com.

Recent commentary

SC was into revolution before 1776

The Revolution of 1719 was a popular, almost bloodless coup led by Arthur Middleton and a host of prominent colonist. It ended proprietary rule in South Carolina. Proprietary governor Robert Johnson was deposed on December 21 and James Moore Jr., a respected landowner and war hero, was proclaimed provisional governor, setting the stage for South Carolina's transformation into a British royal colony.

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina intended their colony to be a moneymaking proposition from the outset. With the bottom line as their top priority, they governed Carolina erratically and ineffectively, and always with economic expediency in mind. Initially the proprietors resisted representative government and incited bitter factionalism in the colony. When they failed to see any return on their investment after several decades, their overbearing leadership turned to outright neglect.


S.C. Statehouse Report has partnered with USC Press to provide readers with an interesting weekly historical excerpt about the state. Each excerpt, which is used with permission and not for republication, is taken from The South Carolina Encyclopedia, a 1,077-page book published in 2006 with entries by almost 600 contributors and edited by noted historian Walter Edgar. We hope you enjoy this new feature.

The failure of the proprietors to assist South Carolina during and after the devastating Yamassee War (1715-1718) and against pirates (1718-1719) provided colonists with galling evidence that the men in London had placed personal profit above the public welfare....The Commons House of Assembly, represented the colonists, responded (to vetoes of key legislation) by appointing officials, raising new taxes and revising the quit-rent law in open defiance of proprietary authority. In November 1719, Johnson was informed by members of the legislature that they were "unanimously of Opinion that they would have no Proprietors' Government." They passed a "Resolution of Grievances" justifying their actions. ... The provisional government maintained the reins of power, blocked two attempts by Johnson to overthrow them, and maintained a sound economy.

-- Entry by Louis P. Towles, The South Carolina Encyclopedia

lighter side
Forgotten front

Another great cartoon by Bill McLemore:

Why insurance companies want to cancel policies

To Statehouse Report:

Normally speaking, flood insurance protection is capped at $250,000 and damage caused by either a storm surge or wind-driven water is not covered by wind insurance. Note the following paragraphs from "Will climate change devastate coastal property insurance?":

But if water rises from below—from a flood or a storm surge—and damages your home, then you would have to file a flood-insurance claim. The federal government manages the flood-insurance program, and any property owner can buy it at relatively modest prices.

By contrast, homeowners’ insurance, including wind coverage, is increasingly costly in hurricane-prone areas and difficult to find. In 18 states along the Gulf Coast and the Atlantic seaboard, most major insurers are in retreat, selling fewer policies or not renewing them at all.

In Florida and Louisiana, more than 600,000 homeowners’ policies, which include wind coverage, were canceled in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms. Companies have ratcheted up premiums and deductibles for coastal homeowners, narrowed terms of deductibles, or turned away new customers.

The primary reason that property insurance is no longer readily available in Mississippi, or affordable when it is available, is that thousands of plaintiffs are seeking to recover under their wind policies for damages caused by wind-driven water, including the flood surge. Until the issue is decided with finality, insurance companies are going to seek to minimize their risks. One way to do that is to cancel polices.

-- Dan Norfleet, Summerville, S.C.

Recent feedback

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Domestic violence laws may be used wrongly, Marty Hicks, Mount Pleasant, SC
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  • NUMBER OF THE WEEK: 71,000
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  • AGENDA: Few meetings ahead
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Enviros want DHEC probe
By Bill Davis, editor
From the paid-subscriber issue of Statehouse Report

SEPT. 7, 2007 -- Environ-mentalists, led by the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, hosted a press conference this week to draw attention to results of well testing at the Barnwell site that had to be pried loose from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The State newspaper.

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Excerpts from The South Carolina Encyclopedia are published with permission and copyrighted 2006 by the Humanities Council SC. Excerpts were edited by Walter Edgar and published by the University of South Carolina Press. No republication is allowed.