In the Spring of 2014, I took PH709, Advocacy for Public Health, with Sue Gallagher. The class had two projects: a legislative analysis for a current Massachusetts bill and a comprehensive advocacy strategy to move that bill forward. I chose ‘An Act Relative to Healthy Kids,’ which intends to require daily minutes of physical activity in public schools as a way to enforce the already existing requirement for physical education in Massachusetts schools.
Executive Summary of the Legislative Analysis
S.246 Title: An Act Relative to Healthy Kids
Presented By: Senator Thomas McGee (D-Lynn)
Primarily Supported By: Representative Kay Khan (D-Newton), Senator William Brownsberger (D-Belmont), Senator Michael Rush (D-West Roxbury)
Other Supporters: Rep. Paul McMurtry (D-Dedham), Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville), Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton), Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett), Rep. Thomas Conroy (D-Wayland), Rep. Robert Fennell (D-Lynn), Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Sen. Eileen Donoghue (D-Lowell), Sen. Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville), Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton), Rep. Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), Rep. Kate Hogan (D-Stow), Sen. Gale Candaras (D-Wilbraham), Rep. Thomas Stanley (D-Waltham)
Assigned Committee: Joint Committee on Education
Corresponding House Bill: H478: An Act Relative to Healthy Kids (Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez)
Stated Purpose: “to promote the physical well-being of the students”
Summary: Amends M.G.L. Ch. 71, Sec 3 by:
- Requiring that physical education be taught as a required subject in all grades
- Requiring at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity to students in K-8
- Asking that the Department develop and maintain a nutrition/physical activity database
- Evaluating current standards, practices, and the instruction of PE in K-12
- Establishing the Healthy Kids Award program to reward K-12 schools that create successful PE programs
Most Recent Action: S.246 was combined with S.242, H.364, H.389, and H.478 to form S.2047, which was sent to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means on March 17th, 2014; required daily minutes of physical activity, the development of the best practices database, and the Healthy Kids Award program were eliminated from the bill
Supporting Evidence: In 2010, 38% of male fourth grade students and 34% of female fourth grade students were overweight or obese in Massachusetts. Studies show positive relationships between physical activity and academic achievement. Research as shows its positive influence on attendance, participation and enthusiasm for academic subjects and motivation to learn, and reduced behavior and discipline problems. This bill would allow students to complete half of their nationally recommended daily physical activity while in school.
- Support bills that enable required minutes of physical education and physical activity in schools
- Support the gathering of school-specific physical education and physical activity data
- Work with the Senate Committee on Ways and Means to insert some of what was lost back into S.2047
- Work with supporting organizations to keep advocating for this issue
Supporting Organizations: Alliance of Massachusetts YMCAs; Action for a Healthy Massachusetts; American Diabetes Association; American Heart Association; Boston Children’s Hospital; Boston Foundation; Boston Public Health Commission; Boston University Collect of Health; Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Weight Initiative; Massachusetts Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Massachusetts Health Council; Massachusetts Public Health Association; Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council; Shrewsbury Public Schools
Opposition/Pushback: Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents; Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association; Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance
My conversations with Allyson Perron, the Senior Director of Government Relations at the American Heart Association, and Pat Degon from the Shrewsbury Public School System demonstrated the importance of gaining support from principals and superintendents. According to these individuals, principals and superintendents set the tone for the schools; without their support, it is difficult to move forward. Knowing that, I created a comprehensive advocacy strategy to convince principals and superintendents that a minimum daily physical activity requirement will help their students overall.
Excerpts from the Strategy:
There are five key messages:
- The current law requires physical education, and schools need to be held accountable to that law.
- We need accurate data that evaluates the status quo of physical education and physical activity in Massachusetts schools.
- Physical education is not the way it used to be, and kids like quality physical education programs.
- Physical education helps kids learn better.
- Physical education and physical activity in schools help kids establish healthy habits for life.
My advocacy role includes the following points:
- Principals drive the bus in each school.
- Advocacy is best done on a local level for this particular bill.
- The image of physical education must be updated.
- The bill needs accurate data about physical education and physical activity programs.
- Principals can benefit from hearing about the advantages of good physical education and physical activity programs in schools.
Given the policy goals, the key messages, and the advocacy role, the ‘ask’ is as follows:
“Add a daily minute requirement back in to S.2047 so that schools are held accountable to the current law that already requires that physical education be taught in MA schools.”
Desired Results: Changing Opponents’ Opinions
The first desired result of this comprehensive advocacy strategy is to convince principals and superintendents to appreciate the value of physical education and physical activity in schools, despite their aforementioned concerns. This would be accomplished by demonstrating the merit of physical education and physical activity by summarizing the research efforts, showing that some schools are actually implementing quality physical education programs despite the barriers and noted lack of time and funding, and changing the widespread and incorrect image of what physical education looks like in schools. By accomplishing these objectives, principals might no longer oppose S.2047 and the daily minute requirement. This would enable the bill to pass with the requirement, which would hold schools accountable to the current law that already requires physical education. If that law were to be fully implemented, kids would do more physical activity in school, they would achieve greater academic success, and there would hopefully be lower rates of overweight/obesity, Type II Diabetes, and other chronic diseases among children in Massachusetts.
I thoroughly enjoyed both the legislative analysis and the comprehensive advocacy strategy development because they enabled me to see into the world of policy-making as it actually happens. Relationships, reputations, politics, and perceptions all play in to how easy or difficult it is to pass a policy at any level. According to the American Heart Association, it generally takes about seven years to pass a policy, though work on this particular issue has been going on for almost twice that amount of time. The coalition of tireless advocates has yet to cease their efforts, hoping that one day, all MA public school students will do a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity per school day.