Friday, March 18, 2011

VSBA, VASS, VEA, VML, and VACO Jointly Request Veto of PE Bill

Today, VSBA along with VASS, VEA, VML and VACO sent the following letter to Governor McDonnell requesting that he veto SB 966:
Virginia Association of Counties
Virginia Association of School Superintendents
Virginia Education Association
Virginia Municipal League
Virginia School Boards Association

March 18, 2011

The Honorable Robert McDonnell, Governor
Commonwealth of Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Dear Governor McDonnell:

We are writing on behalf of the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia Municipal League, and the Virginia Association of Counties to request that you veto SB 966, a bill that would mandate that public schools provide a minimum of 150 minutes of physical education per week in grades kindergarten through eight. We recognize that the bill’s intent of fighting childhood obesity is a laudable goal. We ask, however, that you exercise your discretion to veto this bill because of two major concerns: (1) the bill imposes a substantial unfunded mandate on school divisions and localities and (2) due to time constraints and other requirements imposed on the public schools, the bill’s implementation will pose very significant instructional and practical problems.

The projected personnel costs alone are substantial. In order to provide 150 minutes of physical education per week, many school divisions will have to hire additional physical education teachers, a cost which will be borne solely by the localities. For example, Fairfax County Public Schools has estimated that the personnel costs associated with SB 966 will be $18 to $24 million per year; Chesterfield County estimates that the bill would require an additional 102 elementary teachers and an additional 35 middle school teachers at a cost of $6.9 million; Pittsylvania County estimates that the bill will require an additional 10 elementary teachers and 4 middle school teachers at a cost of $800,000; and Louisa County estimates that the bill will require 16 elementary teachers at a cost of $720,000.

In addition to the personnel costs, this bill will have significant capital costs for many school divisions. While physical education can certainly be conducted outdoors during certain times of the year, the legislation has no inclement weather provision and schools simply were not built with this physical education requirement in mind. Many elementary schools throughout the Commonwealth do not have gymnasiums or other facilities sufficient to meet the requirements of this bill. Supporters of the bill have argued that physical education can take place in the classrooms or the hallways. Anyone who has spent any time in an elementary school – or even around elementary school-aged children – knows this is not a feasible solution. Classrooms are too small and too crowded for physical activity of the type contemplated by SB 966.

This bill also poses an untenable time constraint on the school day. The Standards of Accreditation require an instructional day of 330-minutes, 75% of which (248 minutes) must be spent on core academic subjects. The Virginia Code also requires that elementary teachers have at least 30 minutes per day of unencumbered planning time. If 30 minutes per day are added for physical education, then only 22 minutes per day are left for any other subjects, such as art and music (which elementary schools are also required to teach), foreign languages and computer instruction (which elementary schools are encouraged to teach), or for remediation (which many students need in order to pass the SOLs).

Proponents of this legislation have argued that it will not require the hiring of additional personnel because classroom teachers can provide the physical education instruction. This argument ignores the planning time requirement. Most teachers have their planning time while their students are receiving resource instruction, such as art, music, or physical education. If classroom teachers are to provide the physical education instruction, many school divisions will have to hire additional personnel to relieve the classroom teachers for their planning time. Extending the school day may relieve these time constraints, but only at a very significant additional cost which, again, would be borne entirely by the localities.

For these reasons, we respectfully request that you veto SB 966.