Red Apple Mom

March 6, 2011

Twinkies and the Fairfax County Public School Lobbyists in Richmond

Sunday’s Washington Post has an opinion piece urging Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell to sign a bill requiring more gym class in our Virginia elementary schools.  The bill recently passed the General Assembly with huge support – no pun intended.  Lawmakers seem to think this is the solution for getting fat school kids into shape.  I’m with the Fairfax County School Board and Jack Dale in hoping the Governor vetoes this bill.  (FCPS-McDonnell PE Veto Letter 2-24-11-1)

This is a feel-good bill that in the end causes more problems than it solves.  To begin, it’s another unfunded mandate.  FCPS officials estimate the costs to implement the extra gym classes could run as much $18-$24 million.  FCPS School Board members and Superintendent Dale are right to oppose this bill.

So why didn’t FCPS lobbyists in Richmond do their job and kill this?  They must have been too busy.  These are the same FCPS lobbyists who helped kill the parent notification bill which would have required parental notification of any student who violates a school board policy or the compulsory attendance requirements when such a violation “is likely to” result in the student’s suspension or the filing of a court petition.

It’s just a tad ironic that FCPS lobbyists failed to kill a bill that will potentially cost Fairfax County taxpayers millions of dollars, but they easily killed a bill that would have notified parents when their children get into trouble at school.   It’s even more ironic that the bill was sponsored by former School Board member turned Delegate Kaye Kory.  Kory was working for parents and taxpayers while the taxpayer funded, FCPS lobbyists worked against the interests of parents and students.

Maybe we ought to fire the FCPS lobbyists and use those savings to pay for the new gym class mandate!  Unfortunately though, no amount of gym is going to get help obese children if they are still packing Twinkies in their lunchbox and eating more junk at home!

Full Day Kindergarten Update: Word on the street is that Board of Supervisor Gerry Hyland-Mount Vernon district will submit an amendment to fully fund Full-Day Kindergarten ($8 million) for the remaining 37 FCPS elementary schools.

© Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom, 2001. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Catherine Lorenze and Red Apple Mom with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. And, you believe this cost-estimate? Why? Two doctors sponsored this bill and local pediatricians support the bill, too. You are right about it being “feel good” — if the kids have more physical activity, they WILL feel good 😉

    Instead of lobbying against physical activity for children, Fairfax should have been figuring out how to provide more activity for our students and working with the lawmakers to create a workable no-cost solution. Hopefully, between now and 2014, FCPS will figure it out. As it stands now, children only have 10 minutes a day for recess. That’s not healthy and it won’t help test scores either. Check the comments on this Post article for more information from VFShea — who has some interesting suggestions:

    Comment by slpfairfax — March 6, 2011 @ 11:56 pm

    • Of course the doctors supported it. It’s easy to support something you don’t have to pay for! Even if FCPS’ cost estimates are off, the reality is this bill will cost FCPS money that it does not have right now. It might be cheaper to identify the overweight children, and pay for a community center health club membership for their whole family. That would get to the root of the problem. Their weight problems start at home with the food their parents buy. The school district shouldn’t be in the business of fixing weight problems. Parents need to step up and do their job – taking care of their children’s health through diet and exercise.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — March 7, 2011 @ 8:59 am

  2. Thanks for posting this. I was kinda wondering about this Phys. Ed. issue.

    Comment by isophorone — March 7, 2011 @ 7:22 am

  3. I disagree about cost. It doesn’t have to cost money to allow the children to be more active during the school day or perhaps at the beginning of every school day. If schools did some physical activity (other than the traditional PE that we are all thinking of … there are ways to do this that don’t require additional staff). In fact, they might free up classroom teachers to be able to plan first thing in the morning.

    Of course, parents need to take care of children’s health through diet and exercise AND there are programs that also do what you are suggesting — identify overweight children and … well, they don’t pay for a health club membership, but they do try to change eating and behavior patterns. That said, the children are in school for half or more than half of their waking day. Movement is natural for children and should be encouraged. At this point, I worry that movement is literally getting “squashed” by our focus on testing. Teaching to the test is pushing more and more “in-seat” instruction. This bill suggests that 30 minutes of almost 7 hours/day should be devoted to physical activity. And someone should be pushing recess, too–in Fairfax, our kids’ schedules only allow about 10 minutes/day. That just isn’t enough.

    Oh — and, don’t forget homework overload, which also contributes to more “in-seat” time for children. Plus, the bizarre school scheduling practices in Fairfax mean that many of our elementary students arrive home just before the sun sets making the free-play outside in the neighborhood a thing of the past.

    Comment by slpfairfax — March 7, 2011 @ 9:58 am

  4. Found some interesting facts and research that further support the need for this bill.

    1) In Virginia , 31% of children are overweight or obese.
    2) Research that shows increased participation in physical education classes helps reduce obesity and prevent diabetes and other diseases in the future. This change does not impede performance in other subject areas. In fact, a number of studies have demonstrated that increased physical activity is linked to better school performance.

    3) Not that I am buying the “unfunded mandate” political tactic, but even if you believe this might cost money, Virginia’s direct obesity-attributable health care costs reached over $1.6 billion in 2003, with $374 million in Medicaid dollars directly impacting the state budget. So? Would you rather pay for PE or for future healthcare costs that continue to spiral upward?

    Comment by slpfairfax — March 7, 2011 @ 10:16 am

    • I would rather people start taking care of THEMSELVES and THEIR children. We shouldn’t need a bill for that. I get up at 5:30am and work out every morning. It’s not easy. But I do it. I make sure my kids get outside and eat healthy. That’s not always easy. But I do it. I don’t want to see music or art classes diminished in schools for the 31% of kids who may need more gym class. And based on teacher surveys, I know teachers would prefer more time for TEACHING. Sorry, but I’m still not convinced of this bill’s merits.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — March 7, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  5. I love music and art, too. I think FCPS is using one of their favorite tactics here — divide and conquer. Threaten to take away a beloved program. Provide inflated cost estimates to scare people away from change. I like one of the comments on the Post blog — “Dance anyone?”

    Change can be positive if it is implemented properly — this can be a win for classroom teachers, too — imagine 30 minutes every day for planning while the children are OUT of the room for physical activity.

    If FCPS leadership took a proactive approach to change management and worked with teachers, they might be able to come up with solutions that would be a win for children, a win for teachers, and a win for taxpayers. Alas, I’m afraid that type of leadership is missing at this point in time and all we get is “OMG — How can we avoid change?” “What can we say to STOP this?”

    Comment by slpfairfax — March 7, 2011 @ 11:33 am

    • My elementary school aged children already receive gym twice a week. My middle school child has it every day. That seems like plenty of gym to me. How about a compromise slpfiarfax? How about the kids who are overweight are pulled out for additional gym just as they would be pulled out if they needed additional reading, math, or ESOL instruction? Meantime, the other 69% of kids who are not overweight can continue their current instruction schedule?

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — March 7, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  6. Why are you repeating unsubstantiated cost estimates? The $18-$24 million figure is wildly exaggerated. Another worksheet I obtained from Fairfax County under a Freedom of Information Act request gave a cost estimate of of $6-8.4 million for staffing and $357,425 for equipment annually. If Fairfax County wants people to have a clear understanding of costs of more PE, the school system should prepare a report that explains the current schedules and costs and gives details about any revised schedule. The School Board has never actually voted to go on a rampage of opposing additional PE. Instead, they use the specious reasoning that if they call this “an unfunded mandate” they have an excuse to go all out in opposing adequate PE time for students.
    I thank the General Assembly for for taking seriously its responsibility to set standards for public schools and the activities that should be included in the school schedule. If state law didn’t set some standards for the school day and year, who knows what sort of inadequate schedule Fairfax County would settle for. Clearly the Fairfax County school board needs a wake up call from the state to take some action for the students. Also, keep in mind that classroom teachers could have planning time during the periods the students are in PE class. It would also be a logical to end the two-hour early dismissals currently in effect in most Fairfax County elementary schools. Theoretically these early dismissals could be ended by simply switching the bus schedules. However, over the years most proposals for full day Mondays have involved extra time for specialists, such as PE teachers to instruct the children. Then classroom teachers would extra planning time during the student day. It is time we made these improvements in the elementary school schedules.
    Governor McDonnell, please sign this legislation!

    Comment by vfshea — March 11, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

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