Why Health and Physical Education Won’t Benefit From ESSA Without You

By Jamie Sparks posted 10-12-2017 12:05


On September 14, I was honored to represent SHAPE America at the Title IV, Part A Coalition Congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., to talk about the importance of health and physical education in schools and the need for increased funding to support these programs.

I encouraged the audience at the briefing to visualize the following: Imagine trying to push a giant boulder over a cliff. The boulder is so huge, however, that even with every person in your school community pushing, it still will not budge. In fact, no matter how many people push against it, the boulder is simply immovable.

Jamie_Coalition_briefing_3_350w.pngActivity break during the Title IV, Part A Coalition Congressional briefing

That is exactly what it has felt like to try and change the education system since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was passed 16 years ago. For health and physical education professionals, the boulder has seemed even heavier due to cuts in funding and school programs.

PE + Health = Student Success

Over the years, an abundance of research has clearly and consistently shown a correlation between health and physical education and student success. Active and healthy students:
• Learn better
• Attend school more often and achieve at higher levels than their peers
• Are more likely to graduate and make greater contributions to the workforce

Yet, the education system under NCLB did nothing to engage or empower schools to systematically create healthier learning environments for our students.

ESSA = Hope
Despite my entire teaching career being under this NCLB “boulder,” I had a resurgence of hope when the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law. I realized immediately the change in language in the legislation — from “core academic subjects” to a “well-rounded education” — was a great opportunity to move the boulder, even if slowly. The fact that health education and physical education were included in the definition of a well-rounded education was a great win for our profession on the federal level.

However, the language in ESSA was not a promise or guarantee, but simply an opportunity to change the conversation about our educational priorities on the state and local level. Under ESSA, all 50 states and D.C. have been simultaneously developing their own plans for accountability and implementation. This means that health and physical educators in every state must advocate within their own education systems to help influence the changes we hope to see.

Title IV, Part A is a new state block grant within ESSA that supports a well-rounded education, safe and healthy students, and technology. Congress authorized funding for Title IV, Part A at $1.65 billion, making it a significant priority under this new legislation.

However, during the appropriations process to actually fund the legislation in FY 2017, Title IV, Part A received only $400 million — and for FY 2018, the White House has proposed $0 in funding for Title IV, Part, A, Part B and Title II, Part A. These Titles are meant to support well-rounded education, 21st century learning communities/after-school programs and professional development for educators.

It is very disheartening that the current Presidential Administration has demonstrated so little value for this very critical funding. The harsh reality is that the smaller these pots of funding are, the more challenging it will be for health education and physical education to receive some of this funding at the local level. Thankfully, it is Congress, not the President, that determines the funding for federal programs.

Jamie_SOD_cropped_png_300h.pngYour Action = Change

Now it’s time to get really honest with all my professional peers. The White House budget proposals are not our biggest threat. The lack of congressional appropriations is not our greatest enemy. Our biggest threat, greatest enemy, and most worrisome reality is ourselves.

It could be that pushing against an immovable boulder for so long has made us weary. We could be fatigued from having to convince others for so long why “we” matter. It has been a long, hard road and I admit, it’s difficult to believe that educational priorities can truly change.

Or, maybe we never really learned the importance of creating a unified voice to advocate for our profession. But now we know the rule of successful advocacy: It takes all of us pushing against that boulder to make a change.

That means we need you to engage your elected officials through social media…contact your representatives using the simple tools in SHAPE America’s Legislative Action Center…and stay informed through SHAPE America and your state association.

Do not assume our profession will survive. Do not expect your job to be there next school year. I cannot guarantee you that our advocacy efforts will work, but I can guarantee that if you don’t do anything, then nothing will change!

Take Action Right Now!

  • At the federal level, contact your members of Congress to ask them to fully fund Title IV, Part A for FY 18.
  • Use SHAPE America’s Be a Backyard Advocate Toolkit to organize a meeting with your members of Congress back in their state and district offices.
  • Stay engaged with your state and school district leaders as ESSA is implemented over the next year. Use SHAPE America’s State Advocacy Toolkit to access state-specific information and resources.

ABOVE: Jamie at SPEAK Out! Day 2017

Jamie Sparks is the executive director of Kentucky AHPERD, a member of the SHAPE America Southern District Leadership Council and serves as the coordinated school health staff project director at the Kentucky Department of Education. Reach out to him on social media, @JamieSparksCSH.

1 comment



10-16-2017 14:15

Hello Mr. Sparks,

My name is Emily Witman and I am currently studying health and physical education at West Chester University. I really enjoyed reading your article and especially loved your boulder metaphor. This blog really gave me insight into what is current and necessary for physical educators. The part about us being our biggest enemies really stood out to me as the most important piece of the blog since this is what everyone should take away from your post and use the tools you have added.

Thank you for all you do,