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N.H. Executive Council rejects funding for sex education program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy

NH Executive Councilor Joe Kenney speaks while sitting at a large table surrounded by other executive councilors
Sarah Gibson
Republican Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, of Wakefield, said the recent growth of the parental rights movement in New Hampshire motivated him to vote down this round of funding, even though he has supported similar contracts in the past.

New Hampshire's Republican-controlled executive council blocked funding Tuesday for a long-running sex education program, saying they want state education officials to weigh in on the curriculum.

The federal money supporting the program has been on hold for two months, after several Republican councilors expressed concerns about parental involvement and content. The after school program requires parental permission and is targeted to students in Claremont and Manchester, which have the state’s highest rates of teen pregnancy.

Republican councilors Joe Kenney of Wakefield, Ted Gatsas of Manchester and David Wheeler of Milford voted down the funding without any public discussion at Tuesday’s executive council meeting. One other Republican councilor, Janet Stevens of Rye, and one Democrat, Cinde Warmington of Concord, voted in favor.

After the meeting, Wheeler said he’s asking New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut to review the materials to determine whether they’re age-appropriate.

“In my view, this ain’t it,” Wheeler said about the curriculum. “I'm asking them to take a look and see what else is out there available.”

Kimberly Houghton, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said the agency has had “informal conversations with councilors” but has not received a formal request to review the program’s curriculum.

“Once a formal request is made, [the department] will determine the scope and process for the review, including next steps,” Houghton said.

The curriculum used in the afterschool program, Get Real, is aligned with national sex education standards. It was developed in part by Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts, a connection that has galvanized some of the program’s critics, including the socially conservative Christian advocacy group Cornerstone.

Kenney, another councilor, said the recent growth of the parental rights movement in New Hampshire motivated him to vote down this round of funding, even though he has supported similar contracts in the past.

“I think it's important that parents know what’s being taught of their kids rather than simply after school dropping them off saying ‘Okay, enjoy your class,’” he told NHPR following the council meeting. “I think they need to be more involved in the discussion."

Kenney said he is not opposed to sex education classes and he would consider voting for a version of the program in the future, pending modifications.

Warmington, the council’s lone Democrat, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the vote.

“They have even taken away access to information that is necessary for young people to make good reproductive health decisions and to have information about healthy relationships,” she said.

Amoskeag Health, the Manchester health center that was in line to receive the funding, credited the now defunded program with helping to reduce the city’s teen pregnancy rate by 50% in the last decade.

“The impact of not funding preventative comprehensive sexual health will be more teen pregnancies in New Hampshire, causing an increased financial burden on social resources to support teen moms and the potential for increased demand for abortions,” Amoskeag Health President and CEO Kris McCracken wrote in an email.

TLC Family Resource Center in Claremont, the other health center that would have received the funding, did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.

Updated: November 22, 2022 at 5:15 PM EST
This story was updated with a statement from the New Hampshire Department of Education.
Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.
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