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Phys. Ed. Designated as 'Core Academic Subject' in Proposed ESEA Rewrite

On Tuesday, Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., unveiled a bipartisan rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which our Politics K-12 blog covered in great detail.

Of note to the youth-sports community: The bill designates physical education as a "core academic subject," lumping it in with English, science, math, and history, among other subjects. That marks a change from Sen. Alexander's original draft bill and the current version of the law, which left phys. ed. off the list of core academic subjects.

The move drew praise from phys. ed. advocates, who have been clamoring for such a change for years

"We applaud the Senate HELP Committee for recognizing the importance of physical education as a key component of a well-rounded education," said Paul Roetert, chief executive officer of SHAPE America, in a statement. "Physical educators are uniquely qualified to help students gain the knowledge and skills needed to value a healthy and physically active lifestyle." 

Back in 2007, Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. (who left office in 2011), introduced a bill called the "Strengthening Physical Education Act" that sought to designate physical education as a core subject. The bill never even escaped a subcommittee, however. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., introduced similar legislation in 2011 and in 2013, while Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, introduced companion legislation in 2013, too. Though the bill received backing from more than 75 health organizations, according to a 2014 release from Fudge, it likewise failed to emerge from committee.

A 2013 report from the Institute of Medicine recommended that the U.S. Department of Education should designate physical education as a core subject, as it would then "receive much-needed resources and attention that would enhance its overall quality in terms of content offerings, instruction, and accountability." According to a survey cited in the report, 44 percent of school administrators admitted to having cut physical education and recess time since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, the current version of the ESEA.

The institute said elementary schools should provide minutes with at least 30 minutes of daily physical education, while middle schools and high schools should provide 45-minute physical education classes each day. Students should spend at least half their time in those classes engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, the institute recommended, which would go a long way toward helping them reach the 60 minutes of daily MVPA recommended in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

A 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office found the percentage of schools that offered students regular physical education classes declined from 2000 to 2006. The report also suggested that school sports opportunities appeared to be increasing nationwide, but experts cautioned that the findings, based largely on the early-to-mid-2000s, weren't reflective of the fiscal reality schools faced during the late-2000s economic recession. 

As Lauren Camera of Politics K-12 noted, much work remains to be done on the proposed ESEA rewrite. The Senate education committee is set to mark up the bill in an April 14 hearing, which means it's nowhere near completion. After years of lobbying for phys. ed. to be designated as a core academic subject, however, advocates have the metaphorical ball on the one-yard line.

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