As PEP Funds in Jeopardy, States Plan Own Efforts

NATIONWIDE — As President Bush threatens to cut the entire Carol M. White Physical Education for Progress (PEP) Bill by 2008, PE activists are gearing up with lobbying and legislative efforts to promote and encourage funding for children's physical activity.

PE lobbyists met with members of Congress early this month for PE 4 Life's fifth annual National PE Day. Sporting goods manufacturers, sports retailers, association leaders and sports celebrities met with representatives and senators to garner support for the PEP program, which provides grants to school districts and community-based organizations to upgrade local PE programs. Grants can also be used to purchase sports equipment and train teachers. In the past, grants have been used to buy heart rate monitors, inline skates, climbing walls, treadmills and traditional sports equipment.

The amount allotted for PEP grants increased from $5 million in 2001 to $60 million in 2003 and $74 million this year. While the level of funding has increased, budgetary constraints brought on by war and homeland security are threatening funding for the program, according to SGMA, a trade association of manufacturers, retailers and marketers in the sports products industry.

In President Bush's fiscal year 2006 budget, he proposed a $19 million cut to the PEP bill — from $74 million to $55 million. By 2008, the president proposes that the PEP bill be cut from the budget to allocate funds to other priorities.

“No one knows whether it will get included [in the budget] or not,” Paula Keyes Kun, director of communications for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE), said. “The Senate and the House have been very supportive of the PEP bill, and we have a lot of fans on Capitol Hill because of the obesity problem. We're certainly optimistic.”

To further promote physical activity and to combat the obesity epidemic, state legislators across the country are considering developing physical activity requirements for their schools.

Michael Ochs, director of governmental relations for the NASPE, said at least 26 states have introduced physical activity legislation in the 2005 legislative sessions. Currently, Illinois is the only state that requires physical activity for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

North Carolina and Florida are examples of two states that are looking at making fitness a necessity. Currently, two bills related to fitness are in the North Carolina House: one would require all elementary and middle schools to provide students with a minimum of 30 minutes a day of physical activity and the other would require physical activity in public schools, as recommended by the Study Committee for Childhood Overweight/Obesity of the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission. The committee, which manages the proceeds from the state's tobacco settlement, recommends including a set time for physical activity, restricting vending machine sales of soft drinks and snacks and establishing nutrition standards for school meals. More specifically, the committee advises 150 minutes a week of activity for elementary school students and 225 minutes for middle school students. School systems would have until the 2007-2008 school year to reach these goals. The other bill's requirements would start in the fall.

A similar proposal was made in 2003, but failed in the state's General Assembly, and opposition still exists. The North Carolina School Boards Association wants to be able to meet the time requirement by assigning physical activity homework.

In Florida, a bill was introduced that would require school districts to administer student fitness assessments (such as height and weight) and report results, provide in-service training and development of a physical education program and policy, include physical education in core curricula for teacher preparation programs, and authorize the establishment of partnerships to provide for a system of grants for the improvement of student physical fitness. A similar bill proposed to the Florida Senate would also require fitness assessments with reported results, provide requirements for training PE instructors, require that school districts have coordinators for physical education and health, give recognition awards and make sure districts have wellness policies. It would also require defibrillators on every high school campus. Florida currently has no physical education requirements.

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