Senator Jane Nelson
P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923

OP-ED
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 16, 2007
Contact: Dave Nelson (512) 463-0112

BASIC HEALTH & EXERCISE IS FUNDAMENTAL

When I was a sixth-grade teacher, I always loved when my students came back to my classroom from PE because they were alert and ready to learn.

Teachers know what happens when students are stuck behind a desk all day. They get restless. Their minds aren't focused on learning. Most importantly, it's downright unhealthy.

Teaching our students about nutrition. Ensuring they get daily exercise. These used to be bedrocks of public education -- as fundamental as reading, writing & arithmetic.

Students today lead a very different lifestyle than prior generations. Many spend more time on computers than they do playing outside. They have access to unhealthy food. And if trends continue, an entire generation of young people will live shorter lives than their parents.

More than a third of Texas students are overweight, putting them at higher risk for numerous chronic diseases, including heart disease. We are seeing in adolescents the type of diabetes that used to only show up in middle age. And if obesity trends continue, the costs for healthcare and productivity losses could reach anywhere between $26 and $40 billion by 2040, almost four times the costs today.

For 8 hours every weekday, the State of Texas is responsible for 4.5 million young Texans in our public school system. We must protect their health while they are in our care.

Earlier this session I filed SB 530, which returns to the school day a strong focus on basic health and exercise. I am proud to have 23 joint authors who helped this legislation pass the Texas Senate in early April.

SB 530 requires that our elementary and middle school students receive daily exercise, allowing flexibility to schools with block scheduling. It requires students in all grades to undergo fitness assessments once a year, starting with the 07-08 school year.

A summary of results from those assessments will be sent to the Texas Education Agency, omitting individual student or teacher names to protect confidentiality. And the results will allow our Commissioner of Education to measure the relationship between the health of our students and their academic performance, attendance, disciplinary problems, and other issues.

The Commissioner will report the findings of her analysis each year on September 1, giving us a true picture of the health of our students. We need a better understanding of why so many of our students are struggling with basic health.

This is the fourth session in a row I have filed legislation to improve the health of students in Texas. Each session, there has been resistance. In 2001, I introduced Senate Bill 19 requiring daily exercise for students K-12. To get it passed, we had to limit it to elementary schools. In 2003, we filed SB 1357 requiring schools to compile a report making information regarding their exercise and nutrition efforts public.

In 2005, I passed Senate Bill 42 expanding the daily physical exercise requirement to middle schools. It passed, but in the rulemaking process, it was watered down so much that, in effect, it was never implemented.

As a former teacher, I am sensitive to the demands on our schools. I am also sensitive who those who, like me, want to ensure that students receive a well-rounded education that includes the basics as well as music and fine arts.

But what could possibly be more important to the success of our young people than their health? In education, there are fundamentals and there are electives. Our health is fundamental -- a lesson we must teach our students.

Senator Nelson represents District 12, which includes several communities in Tarrant and Denton counties.

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