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Lawmaker Aims to Abolish Middle School Phys. Ed. Requirement

If Florida state Rep. Larry Metz gets his way, middle school students will no longer be required by state law to take a daily physical education class, starting in July.

Metz's bill, filed back in late September, received a favorable vote from the state K-20 Innovation Subcommittee last week.

The bill strikes the current part of Florida's law that requires "the equivalent of one class period per day of physical education for one semester of each year" for 6th through 8th grade students.

"Simply because an idea may have merit for some does not mean that we should use the power of government to mandate it for all," Metz wrote in an email to ABC News. "Some physically fit and active middle school students might rather use that time in their school day to take another elective."

I can only imagine my Beyond School Blog-writing colleague would respond, "Well, then, why don't you add more time to the school day?"

Metz had a response to that train of thought ready in his email to ABC News.

"Since this mandate was passed, K-12 education funding has been significantly reduced," he wrote. "In the current declining revenue environment, I believe it is only fair that some mandates on school districts be removed."

Let's put aside for a moment the fact that Florida's governor, Rick Scott, proposed a state budget last week that called for a $1 billion boost in education spending over the next year.

Instead, let's focus on the fundamental flaw in Metz's logic, based on recent research: That the sole purpose of physical education class is to combat childhood obesity.

Missing the Point?

Yes, undeniably, having students move around and stay active is one of the greatest, most tangible benefits of phys. ed. class. A recent study found school-based programs that promote physical fitness to be beneficial in the fight against youth-obesity.

However, it also seems unwise to undersell the academic benefits that physical activity and phys. ed. classes can contribute. In Lincoln, Neb., students who passed the district's physical-fitness test were significantly more likely to pass state reading and math tests, according to a recent review.

They're not the only ones to notice a link between academics and fitness. Earlier this year, I wrote about a Maryland school that saw boosts to students' fitness levels, attention spans, and test scores after starting a running club back in 2009.

A study released earlier this year also observed an elementary school in South Carolina that noticed higher test scores after implementing a more comprehensive physical education program.

What's the best way to ensure that schools install comprehensive physical education programs? Having state and district policies that require them, according to a study released last week.

Therein lies the rub with the proposed bill, opponents might say.

Forget the potential academic benefits for the moment, too. As an adult, don't you spend enough time cooped up at a cubicle or at your work desk each day? Shouldn't schoolchildren take every chance they can to run, play, and be physically active, before adulthood gets the best of them?

ABC News reported that the American Heart Association has already spoken out against the bill. Depending on how far along in the legislative process this bill gets, that group may not be the only national health organization to voice opposition to it.

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