When I first learned that the U.S. House passed a bill this week to combat childhood obesity by promoting physical education in schoolsthe Fitness Integrated with Teaching (FIT) Kids ActI assumed it would simply be a case of Uncle Sam sending some money out to help districts improve their P.E. offerings.
But I was wrong.
By my read, this is not really a grant program at all. The core thrust of the legislation is to impose a new set of reporting requirements on school districts so that the public has a better handle on exactly what schools are offering when it comes to P.E. Given all the federal reporting mandates schools are already coping with, something tells me that school administrators may not be thrilled at the prospect of adding still more.
I called the American Association of School Administrators to ask about the bill, which was approved by a voice vote on April 21, but the group declined to comment.
So, what would districts be asked to do?
Beginning one year after enactment of the law, and then on an annual basis, any district receiving federal Title I aid (which means virtually all of them) would have to post on the district website, or otherwise make available to families:
• Information on how its schools are promoting "healthy lifestyles," including school programs and policies on nutrition, physical education, and physical activity;
• Information on whether its schools follow an "age-appropriate physical education curriculum" for all students that adheres to national guidelines adopted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or by the state;
• The most recent national recommendations for P.E. and physical activity for elementary and secondary students; and
• A description of the amount of time students in K-12 are required to spend in physical education, "disaggregated by grade level."
In addition, districts would have to assist each school individually in "collecting and disseminating" similar information to families enrolled in that particular school. But in this case, the school would also have to provide a description of the facilities available for P.E. and physical activity for students. And it would be required to let families know about any "health and wellness council" at the school, with a list of its members, membership criteria, and opportunities for parental involvement, as well as meeting dates and agendas.
Districts also would have to submit to the state data on the amount of time students at all grade levels are required to spend in P.E. classes. Then the state would have to make all this information publicly available, such as by posting it on the state education agency's website.
The legislation would not authorize any money to districts for P.E. programs, but does call for an unspecified amount of federal aid to pay for the National Research Council to examine and make recommendations on "innovative and effective ways to increase physical activity" for students and study the impact of physical education on students' ability to learn.
From a political perspective, it's worth noting that the bill has bipartisan support. One of the co-authors is Rep. Zach Wamp, a self-described "conservative" Tennessee Republican.
"Physical education has been squeezed out of our schools and it needs to be welcomed back in with open arms," Wamp is quoted as saying in a press release from the House Education and Labor Committee. "Research shows that children who get a good healthy dose of cardiovascular exercise have better brain functions, test scores, and sleep patterns, along with an increased quality of life."
The FIT Kids Act has been endorsed by a variety of organizations, including the American Heart Association, the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, and the National Association of Health Education Centers, as well as exercise guru Richard Simmons, according to the committee press release. But there was no mention of backing from the main K-12 education groups in Washington.
"In my heart, I knew this day would come," Simmons says in the committee press release. "For the last three-and-a-half years, I have worked so hard with my team to make the FIT Kids Act a reality. We will continue to work hard so it will also pass in the Senate, and on the day that President Obama signs the bill into law, he'll give me one of the pens."