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Politics

Less desk time, more play

A freshman legislator joins the fight against kids' obesity by pushing for more get-up-and-go in school.

By MOLLY MOORHEAD
Published February 28, 2007


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In his first session as a member of the Florida House, Will Weatherford will push legislation that increases run-around-and-play time for elementary school kids.

The bill would require K-5 students to spend at least 150 minutes a week either exercising or learning about health. Weatherford said school districts would have flexibility in implementing the requirement. For instance, recess time would count.

As it is now, physical education time varies from one school district to the next. Florida is one of 15 states with no PE requirement for elementary students, report national surveys.

Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, added that rising obesity rates among children make physical activity in school an urgent need.

"They're just not as active as they used to be," Weatherford said.

The freshman legislator, whose district includes much of east and central Pasco and a small block in Hillsborough, plans to take on other kid-friendly issues in the session that begins Tuesday.

One of his bills raises the cap on enrollment in virtual schools, a state program in which students take courses online through distance learning but are subject to the same standards as public school students. Weatherford also plans to add an amendment to ban adult video stores within 1,000 feet of existing school bus stops.

The PE plan is his biggest initiative, one he drew from Gov. Charlie Crist's campaign playbook.

Physical education was among the first subjects to be sacrificed as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test gained greater emphasis in measuring student achievement. School district officials say that time requirements for reading in particular, as well as other FCAT subjects, pinch the hours left for anything else.

"It's a good idea. Children need to exercise," Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino said Tuesday. "I'm not disagreeing, but we only have so many hours in the day."

In Pasco elementary schools, Weatherford's 150-minute requirement wouldn't be much of a change. K-5 students already get 90 minutes a week of structured PE class, in addition to recess periods that vary among schools.

Weatherford, 27, who comes from a family of athletes, said he wouldn't push the PE requirement at the expense of other subjects like music and art.

"We just want to create an atmosphere of more activity," he said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at 352 521-6521 or moorhead@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Weatherford's views on other issues

Here's what he thinks about other issues coming up this Legislative session:

- Property tax reform. If a vote were held today, Will Weatherford said he would support a sweeping House proposal that would roll back property taxes to 2000-01 levels and ask voters to dispense with taxes on all homesteaded property in favor of a 2.5-cent sales tax hike. Among other things, Weatherford said, the plan would open up the housing market to people who would otherwise be shut out because of tax fears.

- Cable franchises. Weatherford is co-sponsoring a bill that would allow phone companies to get into the cable business. Authorization for cable franchises would move to the state level, which would end the local monopolies now enjoyed by cable companies. Weatherford said that would drive up competition and ultimately drive down prices.

- The tight budget year. With a shortfall of as much as $1-billion predicted, Weatherford said legislative leaders are sending a clear message to the members about writing new bills: No turkeys allowed.

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 00:37:34]


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