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VOL. 41 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 05, 2017

Bill requiring one hour of PE for TN students fails after dropped ball

By Sam Stockard

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Legislation requiring one hour of physical education per week for elementary students stumbled and fell Monday when it hit a procedural hurdle.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Roger Kane went down in the House Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee after a recount of sorts, one in which a member didn’t vote and then was allowed to cast a “no” vote killing the bill.

The “Tom Cronan Physical Education Act” would have required all public elementary school students to participate in a physical education class for a total of one hour. The measure was to be considered Monday night on the Senate floor.

But House committee Chairman Gerald McCormick, who co-sponsored the bill then voted against it, allowed Rep. Harold Love, a Nashville Democrat, to vote after he was silent when the committee clerk first called his name in a roll call vote. After a five-minute recess and a legal opinion, a 6-5 vote that would have sent the bill to the full Finance committee turned into the bill’s failure.

Kane, a Knoxville Republican, was miffed by the entire matter, because he didn’t know the bill was running into opposition until early Monday, even after he had contacted legislators representing three counties not meeting the bill’s requirements, Dyer, Hardeman and Carter.

“The fact 92 counties are doing this correctly and using their BEP money correctly is the best indicator I can give as to how this program is supposed to work,” Kane said, referring to the Basic Education Program, Tennessee’s K-12 funding formula.

Dyer County was the main opponent of the measure, as its schools director, Larry Lusk, testified Monday before the committee such a mandate would require his rural system to spend $120,000 to hire licensed physical education teachers to replace five unlicensed employees who handle the system’s recess.

If the bill were to pass, Lusk said, the system would have to terminate those five people or they would have to go back to school to become certified. He was asked to testify by Rep. Bill Sanderson, a Kenton Republican.

Elizabeth Fiveash, a representative of the Tennessee Department of Education, testified the state wants all students to have physical education but not all students are receiving it. She also differentiated between students who have recess and those who see a physical education teacher.

In addition, she pointed out systems such as Dyer are receiving the money to hire P.E. teachers but are using it for other expenses. Lusk said it goes toward instructional technology in Dyer County.

Some lawmakers said they feared a “slippery slope” of counties statewide using their BEP money for items beside physical education teachers.

“I’m concerned that other counties might choose to do the same thing,” Kane said. “With Tennessee leading the top of the list of obesity and diabetes and all sort of other problems, this to me is indicative.”

He pointed out the Legislature already enacted a measure requiring elementary students to have 130 minutes of recess each week, up from 90 minutes.

Seeing a licensed P.E. teacher for 60 minutes would enable students to have a “structured” environment as opposed to time for playing games by an unlicensed employee, even learning how to win and lose with grace, he said.

Kane, who chairs the House Education Instruction & Programs Subcommittee, said if he had chair the committee he would have “gaveled it out” with a 6-5 vote. Instead, McCormick allowed Love to cast a vote, which killed the bill.

Despite being miffed about the parliamentary procedure, Kane said would not challenge the outcome. He did said he would follow up with House members such as McCormick who co-sponsored the bill but opposed it.

During the meeting, McCormick said, “The prospect of telling them how to spend the money is typically not how BEP goes.”

Memphis Democratic Rep. Karen Camper also voted against the bill, saying she didn’t like the idea of mandating the 60 minutes since school systems already have that option.

“Any of the counties can do that now. So to put them in a position where they couldn’t comply, I thought, why are we doing this?” Camper said.

Afterward, though, Kane said the Legislature might need to consider making the BEP a funding plan rather than a funding formula.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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