State gives schools more time and flexibility to comply with PE requirements, while funding remains limited

It has been 10 years since the State of Oregon originally enacted House Bill 3141, creating a K-8 physical education minutes requirement for schools to meet by July 2017. But 90 percent of Oregon schools have failed to meet it, including those in Molalla River School District.

So this year, the Legislative Assembly passed Senate Bill 4, effective July 1, 2017. This bill amends the previous one to extend the timeline and offer more flexibility to schools. According to the 2017 Legislative Report from the Oregon School Boards Association and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, the amended requirements are as follows.

  • With the bill, there is now no PE minutes requirement for schools in the next biennium (2017-2019).
  • But by 2019-20, elementary schools are required to provide 120 minutes per week of PE instruction; and by 2020-21 they're required to be in full compliance at 150 minutes per week.
  • Then by 2021-22, middle schools are required to provide 180 minutes per week; and by 2022-23, middle schools will have to be in full compliance at 225 minutes a week.
  • In Molalla River School District, according to Superintendent Tony Mann, elementary students receive between 30 and 60 minutes of PE each week, which is below the 2015-16 Oregon K-5 average of 74 minutes per week (per the February 2017 Oregon Department of Education report on House Bill 3141). At the middle school level in Molalla, however, most students have PE for the full year amounting to as much as 220 minutes per week, which exceeds the 2015-16 Oregon average for grades 6-8 of 152 minutes per week and nearly meets the 2022-23 requirement. But some Molalla 6-8 students do not have a full year of PE to make time for other learning priorities.

    PIONEER PHOTO: KRISTEN WOHLERS - Molalla is among many schools in Oregon struggling to meet state PE requirements.

    "Moving forward, we will need to focus on creating school year schedules for students that allow all of them to participate in PE for a full year," Mann said.

    The original bill, passed in 2007, was intended to help kids increase activity and combat obesity. Oregon Senator Peter Courtney expressed the importance of physical activity in his May 3, 2017 testimony about Senate Bill 4.

    "Regular physical activity is important for our kids. It keeps them healthy, it keeps them happy, and it keeps them engaged…It has even been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, leading to better mental health. Studies show that regular physical activity at school benefits children's academic performance. Kids who are active have higher test scores and grades. They pay better attention to academic tasks. They have better memory and recall. Active children are even less likely to act out in school. This is why it is so important that we ensure that physical education is being taught in Oregon classrooms."

    But school districts don't necessarily need convincing when it comes to understanding the importance of PE.

    "We all absolutely wholeheartedly believe in PE, but we just don't know how to make that work," said Sheryl Lipski, Canby School District's director of teaching and learning.

    She continued, "It's a complex problem…There are so many components and I don't think people understand all the pieces."

    A number of identifiable obstacles stand in the way of schools meeting the requirements.

    First of all, the schools need more PE teachers, which costs more money. If a district were to need five new teachers at a salary of $40,000, that would amount to a needed $200,000 from the budget.

    In the recently approved SB 4, the legislature attempted to address this issue of schools struggling to fund new teaching positions. They created a provision which allows elementary school teachers to instruct their own class and a partner's class for up to 45 minutes per week.

    A representative from Senator Courtney's office acknowledged that schools have limited time and money.

    "We wanted to make sure that adding more PE wouldn't require hiring a bunch of additional PE teachers," the representative said, "and it also wouldn't mean that we took away planning time from teachers. This way, a teacher could share their class and one teacher could do planning time while the other one is taking kids on a structured PE activity."

    Molalla River School District is already taking advantage of this option as elementary PE is taught exclusively by homeroom teachers. But elementary school teachers aren't necessarily equipped to provide quality PE instruction, and their time is limited.

    "We would love to add physical education teachers/specialists at the elementary level," Mann said, "yet statewide school funding does not provide the resources at this time without having to look to cut in some other area."

    Besides the cost of hiring, larger financial constraints remain. In order to schedule enough classes for all students to meet PE requirements, schools need more square footage. But gyms don't come cheap.

    "Facilities are a large challenge for us," Mann said. "At Molalla Elementary, for example, with just one gymnasium, there are not enough hours in a school week to meet the full implementation of the law without adding a gymnasium to the school facility."

    With limited resources for teachers and facilities, schools look to the legislature for funding.

    "OSBA and our members, we support physical education; but when it's mandated by the legislature, then we look for the legislature to fund the costs associated with their programs," said Alex Pulaski, the communications director at OSBA. "School funding is extremely tight in Oregon. It's been tight for a decade or more. So, every time there's a new requirement put on with a cost associated with it, we look for that to be covered."

    Beginning in 2007, the legislature has offered some funding in the form of the PEEK-8 grant to support schools in meeting the requirement, but there's not enough dough to go around. This year, the legislature allocated $4.3 million dollars for the 2017-19 biennium for teacher hire and professional development grants, according to the Education Program Specialist for ODE Suzanne Hidde. But that sum is spread thin over two academic years and nearly 1,000 K-8 public schools in the state of Oregon.

    "This is a competitive grant, and there are more grant requests than can be funded," Hidde said.

    The average teacher hire award per school for the 2017-18 academic year is $36,000, per Hidde, merely enough to underpay one teacher.

    Finally, beyond the funding issue, allowing enough time in a school day for PE is also a concern. The schools have researched the amount of time that teachers should spend instructing language arts and math. Despite being in agreement about the importance of physical education for students, schools are in a tough spot when it comes to meeting the requirement. Molalla River School District will look for creative ways to meet the demands.

    "We will need to identify alternatives in order to meet the new requirements in PE," Mann said. "In order to expand the number of minutes, we will need to look at all of time spent in the various subjects and skills required, and we will need to determine where to grab time for additional time in PE. We will also have to look for ways to use space outside of our already maximized gymnasium space."

    Kristen Wohlers
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