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ANCHORAGE - The federal education bill passed last week includes a $50 million grant program to support daily physical education classes in public schools. The measure was included at the request of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.
But Anchorage School District officials say there aren't enough teachers, gyms or hours in the school day to take advantage of the program.
"A grant would be great to hire teachers, but grants run out," said Anchorage schools Superintendent Carol Comeau.
The grants could be used to hire and train staff, buy equipment and add and improve programs at public schools. Stevens said the money could help schools run daily programs.
"It is important that we educate our children and all Americans on the importance of early physical activity, including sports, as the best way for a child to develop a healthy, lifelong exercise habit," he said in a written statement.
Physically fit at age 78, Stevens has campaigned for years for more physical education. His rally comes at a time when obesity rates are on the rise, and phys ed is in decline.
The U.S. Surgeon General documented this in a new report. Only one in four students is currently taking a physical education class. The report said about 13 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 14 percent of kids age 12 to 19 were overweight in 1999. Those numbers have tripled during the last two decades. As one solution, the report suggests daily physical education classes in every grade.
Some educators say physical education has been pushed aside by today's rigid curriculum in reading, writing and math, and preparation for standardized tests.
Grade school students in Anchorage have physical education twice a week for 30 minutes.
"In a perfect world, we'd see them once a day for a half hour each," said Jay Rowe, physical education teacher at Ocean View Elementary. A national push in that direction has met resistance, he said. "You'd have to have a lot more teachers, and a lot of facilities would have to be upgraded."
These are real-world reasons, said Comeau, who minored in elementary physical education. There aren't enough gyms at any of the schools to handle daily physical education classes.
"If we required four years of P.E., 30 minutes a day, we'd definitely have to go to a seven-period day," Comeau said. "Not that that's a bad thing, but that would be a huge increase in cost."