Editorial: Exercising his veto power
While officials in Richmond and Washington often speak of the inherent ills of unfunded mandates, they rarely do anything about the problem … aside from drafting more legislation that requires counties, cities and towns to fork up the money for some new pet project.
Last week, Gov. McDonnell did something other than give the problem lip service. In his first veto in office, he struck down a bill that would have required an average of 150 minutes a week of physical education time for students in grades K through eight across the commonwealth.
The bill, in and of itself, is laudable. Children (and adults, for that matter) are far too sedentary and would benefit from an exercise regimen. It was introduced in the General Assembly by Sen. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist who has seen the consequences of childhood obesity in his practice. There is no disputing the altruistic motivation behind this effort, nor is there any doubt that children could use more physical activity.
The problem is what the bill doesn’t address—the matter of who is going to pay for it. Anyone familiar with schools today knows there are two commodities in short supply: money and time. Cash-strapped schools simply lack the resources in manpower and equipment. And classroom time is at a premium, much of it spent preparing for the next SOL test.
Should daily exercise be a part of a comprehensive education? Certainly. However, this bill would rob Peter to pay Paul. Teachers would be able to devote less classroom time to instruction, which would likely result in a drop in test performance.
This brings up the issue of standardized testing, another onerous and ever-growing unfunded mandate. The federal No Child Left Behind Act, if left unchanged, will require every child in America to be "proficient" by 2014. To meet this unrealistic requirement, more and more classroom time will be spent on rote memorization.
What is needed is a substantive national dialogue about the future of American education—one that will include the importance of critical thinking skills, the need for some proficiency testing and, yes, physical education. And that discussion needs to address the elephant in the room: funding.
But, in the meantime, let’s not just tack on another requirement for our schools with no thought to how it can be accomplished or who will pay for it.