Lindsey Graham's Education Policy Record Shows He Basically Just Allows Funding For Abstinence-Only Sex Ed

On Monday this week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) announced that he will join the race of Republican hopefuls seeking the presidential nomination for 2016. Graham announced his campaign with many statements regarding his commitment to national security. While it appears that he’ll be selling his candidacy based on security-oriented policies, we’re of course curious about where he lands on other issues, such as abortion, gay marriage, and what about education? A look through Sen. Graham’s voting record and bill support in the Senate will reveal that Graham has a nonexistent record of funding public education.

The senator’s campaign website currently has a heavy emphasis on his personal story and his experience with national security policy, and nothing is available on his site regarding how he plans to address education issues if he becomes president in 2016. I can’t say I blame him for not advertising his history with education policy, since he appears to be a pretty big proponent of avoiding additional federal funding for schools. That doesn’t exactly look great on a campaign poster.

In the last decade, Graham voted against at least four bills that would provide additional funding for schools. One of these was a bill asking for $5 billion in grants for Title I schools (Title I schools are defined as having "high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families" by the U.S. Department of Education). He also voted against a bill that would allocate funds from corporate loopholes — a total of $11 billion — to education. So, not looking too hot for school funding if Graham takes the helm.

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The only area where Graham is more than eager to allocate funds for education is for abstinence-only programming in public and private schools. Graham is currently the co-sponsor of a bill seeking to enact the Healthy Relationships Act of 2015. In this case, healthy means "sexually abstinent." According to the language in the bill, the intention is to “award grants on a competitive basis to public and private entities to provide qualified sexual risk avoidance education to youth and their parents.” As you might guess, the first criteria for being considered “risk avoidant” is that the program delivers (quoting directly from the bill, here) “the unambiguous message that postponing sexual activity is the optimal sexual health behavior for youth.”

This is hardly the first time that Graham has made a huge push for abstinence-only sex education programming in schools. Graham tried for a similar bill in 2013, when he sponsored a bill seeking the enactment of the Abstinence Education Reallocation Act of 2013. The language and requests of this bill are effectively identical to the one he’s pushing now. Both seek grants for abstinence-only sex ed, and both claim that sex is an activity best reserved for marriage. Both bills also call for educators to impart “the skills needed to resist the pervasive sex-saturated culture that portrays teenage sexual activity as an expected norm.”


The fact is, sexual activity among teenagers actually is more or less the norm. In 2013 the CDC reported that 47 percent of teenagers had had intercourse. Yet Graham and his colleagues continue to push for sex ed that falls far short of being comprehensive. Teaching an abstinence-only curriculum means that nearly half of teenagers are not getting the information they need to be safe, healthy, and emotionally safe in their sexual encounters.

In light of bills such as Graham’s, several former Surgeons General issued a plea to legislators, stating the absolute importance of comprehensive sex education in schools. Yet Graham, a non-expert in the field of education and teen health, continuously argues for legislation that flies in the face of recommendations from the Surgeons General, the CDC, educators, and teens themselves.

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Various studies have shown that abstinence-only education has the opposite of the desired effect: Teen pregnancies and occurrence of STIs both increase. In order to receive not only quality sexual education, but a more comprehensive education overall, schools need funding and policies that are much stronger than Graham will offer. Given that Graham is adamant about keeping federal money out of schools for anything other than abstinence-only health education, students and educators will have to look elsewhere for a favorite candidate.

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