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Kent bill would muscle up phy-ed in schools

A Woodbury lawmaker wants more schools around the state to do their part in ensuring students stay active.

A bill authored by Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, requires statewide physical education standards to be set for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The legislation faced its first hearing on Thursday, Jan. 29, in the Senate Education Committee, where supporters and critics testified.

Kent said the bill aims to strengthen an existing law signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2010 that set out minimum physical education standards. The problem since that law was passed, she said, was that a survey conducted by the Department of Education revealed incomplete implementation across the state.

“By and large, good news, good numbers – but just not complete,” Kent said.

Under the legislation, physical education would be measured like other disciplines and would require the education department to adopt the most recent National Association of Sport and Physical Education K-12 standards and benchmarks. Districts in the state would be required to conduct annual mastery assessments, and would require phy-ed teachers to be licensed and certified.

The bill doesn’t yet have a price tag, though Kent said she doesn’t anticipate the policy change will mean “a big cost” to the state.

Kent said the thrust of the legislation comes from the notion that knowledge and skill-based learning of physical education can have long- and short-term effects.

“This is about giving kids the information and the skills they need when they reach that stage to independently reach individual wellness,” she said.

Kent also pointed to research that shows students’ brains are more susceptible to learning after they’ve been physically active.

“I think these are so positive,” she said of the standards.

Several critics at the committee hearing lodged concerns with the legislation. Much of their focus was aimed at a provision in the bill calling for a minimum of two phy-ed credits for high school students.

Scott Croonquist, speaking on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said that requirement creates scheduling problems. He and others testifying at the hearing said the two-credit phy-ed requirement will squeeze out other elective classes, like art or orchestra.

“When we put so much on them, we end up with conflicting goals,” Croonquist said.

Critics of the legislation have also raised concerns that it will apply a one-size-fits-all approach to widely disparate school districts. Sam Walseth, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Rural Education System, raised that issue, saying it could be “problematic for districts.”

Kent said the hope is that the legislation develops a consistency in expectations. She said language in the bill will be tweaked to allow for flexibility.

“We’re trying to find a good sweet spot (where) everybody can be comfortable,” Kent said.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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