Bill Would Mandate School Time for Student Physical Activity

ANNAPOLIS (January 31, 2019)—Legislation that would require 150 minutes of physical activity, including 90 minutes of physical education, a week for elementary school students in Maryland was heard by the House Ways and Means committee on Thursday.

The Student Health and Fitness Act requires schools to create a physical leadership activity team to fill the remaining 60 minutes with "moderate to vigorous" activity.

Allegany, Anne Arundel, Cecil, Montgomery, Queen Anne's and Somerset counties would need to hire more teachers to account for the new physical education—or P.E.—requirements.

An increase of $19.9 million or significantly more would be needed in the 2020 fiscal year to fund these counties that have maximums of 45 or 60 minutes per week in P.E., according to the Maryland Department of Education.

Delegate Jay Walker, D-Prince George's, sponsored the bill—which failed last legislative session—and said it was not helpful that his daughters were only receiving one day of P.E. a week.

"I realized that children in my county, throughout the state, we have a problem with childhood obesity," Walker told Capital News Service.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education is opposing the bill because of the fiscal consequences, and argued allotting P.E. time should be up to local jurisdictions.

Anne Arundel currently has 60 minutes of P.E. required a week, and officials estimated it would cost the county $3.5 million to rollout changes in fiscal year 2020.

"It is critical for a local board of education to retain the authority to address curricular issues for its schools," the board said in written testimony.

Matt Slatkin, a physical education teacher in Montgomery County, told lawmakers the time set aside for physical education is a proactive and cost-effective strategy for boosting students' well-being.

"This falls under the moral obligation of 'see something, say something' for me," Slatkin said.

Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, said physical education has been proven to help health disparities, but said there was an argument on how much the legislature should get involved.

Luedtke said schools have changed their priorities based on academic subjects the federal government measures and tracks.

"It's natural that schools would de-emphasize some of these things," said Luedtke.

Walker said making the change to P.E. policy would save money down the road, by helping prevent health care issues.

A 2018 CDC report found 60 minutes of physical activity a day helps prevent obesity. The report also cited a Washington State Institute for Public Policy study that determined increased physical activity boosts academic achievement.

"The parents think they're getting the P.E. in school, but they're really not, so we need to bring it back," said Walker.

Walker, who was a National Football League quarterback for the New England Patriots in 1994, said 90 minutes of physical education a week helps with test taking, physical being and wellness.

"It teaches you about how to socialize, how to be competitive, how to have confidence and how to overcome," Walker said.

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