Funding victory gets staff back to doing what they do best

When funding for a major five-year study of Public Health’s pioneering FLASH sexual health education program was restored last week, employees who work on the program took a collective sigh of relief.


Pictured from left to right: Heather Maisen, Andrea Gerber and Kari Kesler.

“We were starting our third year of the project when we received notification that our study, which is funded by the Office of Adolescent Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program, was going to be terminated two years early, so we weren’t going to have the final two years of our funding to complete the study,” Andrea Gerber, Health Educator and FLASH co-author, said.

Public Health received a competitive award from the Office of Adolescent Health to do a rigorous, five-year evaluation of the curriculum at the high school level to look at its effectiveness for young people and their families. In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) announced it was cancelling all TPP grants two years early, cutting $2 million from King County–and ignoring the mandate of Congress, which has continually funded the program for nearly a decade.

“Without that last bit of funding all three years and $3 million would have been wasted,” Gerber said. “We wouldn’t have had evaluation results because we wouldn’t have been able to complete our study.”

FLASH is produced by the Family Planning program at Public Health – Seattle & King County and is available to educators everywhere. It’s currently used in every school district in King County, across much of Washington state, and in at least 40 other states.

“The evaluation is looking at the effectiveness of our high school curriculum in preventing teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and improving family communication,” Family Planning Program Manager Heather Maisen, said. “What we were hoping and had intended to do when we applied for this funding was to have results that show the effectiveness of our program so school districts across the country have evidence of why they’re choosing this curriculum.”

U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled on May 29 that HHS acted unlawfully in terminating King County’s funding to study the efficacy of its FLASH sexual health education program. Last week HHS reversed course and approved the $1 million fourth-year payment.

While FLASH is based on the latest research and evidence, the full curriculum has never been evaluated for its effectiveness.

In fact, it’s rare for any sexual health curriculum to receive scientific evaluation because conducting such a study is both complex and expensive. That’s why Congress created the TPP Program, which funds the research.

“It’s been a long journey of uncertainty, so we’re really relieved to get to do the work that we do so well and want to keep doing,” Maisen said.

With the funding restored, the important work of providing evidence and data so school districts can make informed, objective decisions on high school sexual health education is back on in schools in the Midwest and South.

“All of the school districts in King County have adopted FLASH at at least one grade level for youth so the evaluation is not being conducted in King County since we have such a high use of the curriculum and we historically have had,” Health Educator and FLASH curriculum co-author Kari Kesler said. Maisen added, “We need to conduct the study in areas that haven’t had the curriculum so there are no confounding variables, so we can show its true effectiveness.”

Learn more about the FLASH curriculum on this Public Health webpage.