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Va. Legislature Weighing Physical Activity Mandate for K-5 Students

The Virginia General Assembly is currently considering a bill that would require 20 minutes of daily physical activity for students from kindergarten and 5th grade.

The state Senate passed the bill, 34-5, on Jan. 27, sending it to the House of Delegates for consideration. It's currently under consideration with the House's education committee.

If the bill gets passed, it would require K-5 students to have at least 20 minutes of physical activity per day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the school year. Students in grades 6-12 wouldn't be required to have a certain amount of physical activity per week, but the physical activity program—which could include physical education classes, extracurricular athletics, recess, or "other programs and physical activities deemed appropriate by the local school board"—must be available to such students under the terms of the bill.

"Requiring 20 minutes of physical activity every day a child is in school is the right thing to do," said Sen. John Miller, the author of the bill, in a statement. "We must ensure our children are given the tools to be both academically successful and healthy. This is a small step in that direction."

If passed, the bill would go into effect during the 2017-18 school year.

Back in 2011, the state Senate and House both passed legislation that would have made 150 minutes of weekly physical education mandatory for K-8 students, but some school administrators spoke out in opposition of the bill due to its potential cost. Fairfax County, the state's largest school district, estimated that the bill could cost the district between $18 and $24 million.

Then-Gov. Bob McDonnell wound up vetoing the legislation in March 2011, calling it an "unfunded mandate."

"In my inaugural address, I stated very clearly that Washington does not always know better than Richmond, and, equally, that Richmond does not always know better than Fairfax or Galax," McDonnell said in a press release. "I have long opposed significant unfunded mandates passed from one level of government to another. Thus, I cannot in good conscience sign this legislation."

This year's bill, on the other hand, does not require any additional funding or personnel, which Miller stressed to The Washington Times.

"This does not require a PE teacher; it doesn't require a gym or any funding," he told the paper. "It just requires an additional time for children to be active."

While some administrators and teachers may not love the idea of losing 20 minutes of instructional time per day, a wealth of research in recent years has linked physical activity to academic success. That 20-minute physical-activity break from learning could actually wind up helping students academically, as counterintuitive as it might sound on the surface.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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