Physical Fitness Requires Financial Fitness

Are Idaho’s new physical education rules healthy?

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerIn November of last year, the Idaho State Board of Education approved a new set of rules that require additional physical education instruction in Idaho’s schools.  The new set of rules was a scaled down version of the original package and does not include a 2 credit PE graduation requirement.  It does, however, require PE an hour a week for elementary students, and about 3 hours for middle school student every two weeks.

On the surface, this is great news.  Every student in Idaho should have access to an excellent physical education curriculum promoting strong healthy habits.  For the first time, students across the state will have equitable access to PE.  Or will they?

Opposition mounted against the proposed rule. Yet, it was not because districts didn’t want their students to have expanded access to increased physical education courses.  Nope, instead districts wanted the state to understand they were already having trouble offering physical education courses in general.

Districts argued that state cuts in education had already diminished their ability to provide PE in their districts period.  Bonneville’s superintendent stated that his district cut his PE program entirely in order to keep his district in the black.

Other districts, like Idaho Falls, are considering axing their sports programs in order to keep their district solvent.  The district even reported that it is considering requiring their elementary general education instructors to also step into the role of the PE teacher so that the district can cut its certified PE teachers off the payroll.

This takes a page right out of Teach For America’s (TFA) model, Blamo!  An elementary teacher clearly doesn’t need any specialized training in physical education.  Nope, can’t see any problems with this model here.  I’m sure every elementary teacher is highly qualified to take on the role of PE teacher.  Parents would obviously support such a reform.

So where is the support for this new rule change coming from if districts are in opposition?  There was a strong lobbying effort by the American Heart Association to mandate such a rule in Idaho.

Full disclosure:  American Heart Association of Idaho’s point person, Adrean Cavener, is my sister-in-law.  However, on this issue, we disagree.

On an October 7th State Board hearing, Adrean and a group of Physical Educators testified to the benefits of increased physical activity on a student’s body and its positive impact academically as well.  No argument from me here.

However, she was also reported as saying, “the cost of requiring P.E. would be minimal because so many districts already offer the courses.” The data offered by districts in opposition would seem to suggest otherwise.

As it stands, without increased funding from the state to carry out such a mandate, access to physical education may actually decrease.  Idaho Falls School District facilitated a workshop to explore a budget for next year under the assumption no new funds were headed their way.  So what did the committees come up with to stay in the black?

Cut extracurricular sports.  Gone.  Ax the school’s coaches.  It’s not like coaches impact students’ lives outside the classroom.  Saves about $500,000.  Maybe offer a “pay-to-play” model where all coaches are volunteers, and only students who can come up with the cash make the team.  Good stuff.

Make the elementary general education teachers double as their school’s PE teachers.  Saves another 300 grand.  I’m sure that 50 minutes of mandated instructional time a week will be the highest of quality under such a plan.  I bet this is what those PE teachers had in mind when they testified to the State Board of Ed.

And hey, if those instructors can double as gym teachers, why can’t they double as music teachers too!  Everyone knows how to sing!  Saves about another quarter of a million dollars.

Furlough all school district staff for a day!  Because we all know that when kids aren’t at school they will utilize their time wisely at home to replicate whatever they are missing in the classroom.  Good call.  Saves about another $150,000.

Thanks Idaho Falls for putting together the blueprints to implement the new physical education rules for the rest of Idaho.  It’s as easy as “1-2-3!”

  • Step 1: Cut sports and coaches.
  • Step 2: Make elementary instructors ditto their roles as PE and music teachers.
  • Step 3:  Furlough staff.

Yup, sure looks like those students ended up with expanded access to additional opportunities they would have been lacking before.

Sorry, but these rules don’t pass muster.  If we want to increase students’ access to physical education, then let’s do it the right way.  Fund the mandate properly so districts can implement a model that serves the students instead of hurting them.

Luckily, these changes still need to be approved during the upcoming legislative session.  Let your lawmaker know to either fund this mandate, or shut the doors to this stinky locker room.

One thought on “Physical Fitness Requires Financial Fitness

  1. Evonne

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