The Collaborative for Comprehensive School-Age Health (the Collaborative) is a network of more than 25 public and private partners in Greater Cleveland working to promote access for adolescents and young adults to medically accurate, age and culturally appropriate reproductive health education. The Collaborative provides a venue for strategic public policy education and activism, professional development, and community technical assistance in its pursuit of greater access to evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education for children and youth in northeast Ohio.
The Collaborative grew out of a gathering convened in 2005 by The George Gund Foundation of all known local organizations and several key national organizations1 providing or supporting adolescent reproductive health care. The purpose was to identify entities committed to the concept of comprehensive sexuality education and catalyze support for local and state policies and programs promoting a comprehensive sexuality education philosophy. Attendees discovered two surprising things that day: (1) many organizations were unfamiliar with each others’ work in this area, and (2) Cuyahoga County had been supporting a non-evidence based abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum (AOUM) in some local school districts with state Wellness Block Grant funds.2 As a result of that meeting, participants quickly agreed that an ongoing forum was needed to systematically advance the provision of comprehensive sexuality education to youth across northeast Ohio. Thus, the Collaborative was born. It has been meeting quarterly as a professional network ever since.
Marcia Egbert of The George Gund Foundation currently serves as Chair. Administrative and staff support is provided by the Center for Community Solutions. Public policy and program support is provided by Wendy Leatherberry, public policy consultant.
The Collaborative worked closely with senior Cuyahoga County elected and appointed officials and leadership of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health to promote and ensure a smooth transition away from any funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming. In partnership with the Board of Health and school districts which selected comprehensive programming, the Collaborative helped demonstrate the strong community support behind such a transition. With the Collaborative’s direct support, Cuyahoga County adopted the practice of limiting use of funds to comprehensive, abstinence-inclusive curricula in 2005.
A natural next arena for engagement for the Collaborative was with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), given its status as the largest school district in northeast Ohio and its existing policy requiring comprehensive sexuality education curricula. The Collaborative’s goal was to expand provision of comprehensive sexuality education in the CMSD beyond the targeted grade levels where curriculum was provided in 2005 to reach all children in grades K-12.
Potentially catalytic opportunities to achieve this goal emerged through the interest and leadership of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners in 2006. The Collaborative worked to coordinate these opportunities in a manner that resulted in a financial commitment by the County to underwrite expansion to universal availability of comprehensive sexuality education in the CMSD beginning with the 2006-07 school year. Once that commitment was made, the Collaborative quickly worked with CMSD leadership to organize the technical support needed to identify and craft the necessary curricula. Additionally, the Collaborative worked to secure a highly regarded external evaluation partner (Philliber Research Associates) to evaluate the model and provide critical data that supports the continuous improvement of the CMSD program. The effective conduct of this on-going evaluation would not be possible without the leadership and expertise of the AIDS Funding Collaborative, which serves as the evaluation monitor. CMSD has been a remarkable leader in this initiative, but its effort would not be sustainable without the Collaborative, the AIDS Funding Collaborative, the City, County, Cleveland, Gund and St. Luke’s Foundations providing ongoing, consistent partnership and support.
Public Policy Gains
In addition to the two critical achievements outlined above, the Collaborative has been instrumental in additional public policy gains through its targeted, coordinated advocacy and education efforts:
- Governor Strickland line-item vetoed a requirement that funding in the SFY 2008-2009 budget be used for adoption education adhering to then federal abstinence-only-until-marriage guildelines;
- The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) applied for and received HIV/AIDS prevention funding from the Centers for Disease Control that ODE had previously rejected for nearly a decade;
- Governor Strickland and the Ohio Department of Education attempted to remove the requirement for the Ohio General Assembly’s approval for any state health curricular standards in the current SFY 2010-11 state budget. (This attempt failed, but it is quite significant that the attempt was made);
- The Obama Administration proposed, and Congress approved, eliminating federal AOUM funds and providing $100 million to support medically accurate teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS prevention education programs in the current FFY 2010 budget. The Collaborative’s role was providing CDC officials, SIECUS and AFY leadership with CMSD evaluation results that were used as examples of effective, evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education programs in meetings with White House and Congressional leadership developing the new federal funding stream. The CMSD results aided in Congress expanding the original White House proposal to include HIV/AIDS prevention education (not just teen pregnancy prevention) and allow local public entities (like school districts) to be eligible grant recipients.
In each of these instances, expertise of specific Collaborative members was combined with the strategic collective advocacy of the whole membership to secure policy gains. This is the model the Collaborative continues to use.
The Collaborative has also provided crucial support and technical assistance in a variety of areas, particularly in ensuring continued support of existing programs. For example, successfully engaging key decision-makers in the Cuyahoga County government to continue support of the CMSD program in these remarkably difficult economic times has been a priority which has been achieved through the current academic year.
Soon after the implementation of the K-12 programming began in CMSD, it became clear that the Collaborative needed to assess itself, develop a plan for moving forward and adopt a basic operating structure and principles. Member survey results clearly demonstrated that participants strongly wanted to continue the Collaborative and saw it as a key resource yet believed it should not become an independent 501(c)3 organization. Rather, it was felt the Collaborative worked most effectively as a professional network; its seeming informality was seen as a key part of its strength and influence in its short history.
- The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) and Advocates for Youth sent senior staff to the convening and have been involved in the Collaborative since its inception.↑
- Collaborative members subsequently learned that even two of the County Commissioners did not know County funds were supporting an AOUM program.↑