Gov. Bob McDonnell has vetoed legislation (SB 966) that would force local school districts to provide 150 minutes of physical education per week for all students in elementary and middle school by the year 2014.
The state mandate was strongly opposed by local school districts and teachers concerned about the financial impact of its implementation.
Speaking about his decision, McDonnell notes, “In my Inaugural Address, I stated very clearly that Washington does not always know better than Richmond, and, equally, that Richmond does not always know better than Fairfax or Galax. I have long opposed significant unfunded mandates passed from one level of government to another. Thus, I cannot in good conscience sign this legislation.”
“While the objective of this legislation is laudable, the proposed means of accomplishment is problematic. Education officials advised me that this measure would cost them tens of millions of dollars. Fairfax County estimates the fiscal impact at $18-24 million; Chesterfield County places their potential costs at $6.9 million.
“In addition, this mandated time for physical education would exceed the time dedicated to any other subject in our public school system, and potentially cut into crucial time in the classroom needed for instruction in math, science, history and reading. Our local school districts are facing tough budgetary times, and we simply cannot ask them now to incorporate an expensive new policy with no new funding.
“I am a strong proponent of the importance of exercise for our young people. My wife, Maureen, has made combating childhood obesity and inactivity, and promoting preventative healthcare, one of her chief issues as Virginia’s First Lady. However, we should not attempt to achieve important goals by disproportionately placing the burden of implementation on others.
"While I strongly agree that we must encourage exercise and physical activity, I oppose unfunded mandates, whether they come from Washington or Richmond. In the fight against childhood obesity and preventable disease, we all have a role to play.
"Government cannot just pass legislation and make this problem go away. Kids need to get off the couch and away from the computer and onto a soccer field or basketball court. We should look for every opportunity to encourage children to turn off the TV and go outside and play.
"Our young people should be taught by parents, teachers and mentors about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and to pick active, rather than passive, recreational activities. I have instructed officials in my administration to look for creative and innovative means by which we can promptly help get our children more physically active, and motivated to exercise on their own.
"One solution is to utilize mechanisms already in place, through our local School Health Advisory Boards, to create wellness policies for our schools. This allows for local level decision making based on each localities needs.
"I applaud both Sen. Ralph Northam and Del. John O’Bannon for their leadership on health care issues and commitment to improving the health and wellness of Virginia’s children. I have pledged to work with them on this issue as part of a comprehensive review of the curriculum priorities for our public education system over the next year.”
The General Assembly will consider McDonnell’s veto when it meets the first week of April for the reconvened session.