Physical Education and Nutrition in the Budget Crisis
Thirty-five percent of children in the state of Texas are obese, while twenty-four percent of children are also food insecure. The education system is attempting to address both of these issues with physical education programs, nutrition programs, and food assistance programs. However, these attempts are in jeopardy due to the fact that Texas is faced with a fiscal deficit of $25 billion and a challenge to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes (Weisenthal & Leuben, 2010). As a result of the budget crisis, public education programs, including physical education, are being cut from schools despite the obesity epidemic in children. On the other hand, the state nutrition programs are increasing their regulations and receiving increased funding from the state and federal government, not only to raise nutrition standards, but also to provide more free and reduced price lunches for at-risk children. This paper will examine the effects of cutting physical education in middle schools, as well as the paradox of fighting obesity by increasing nutritional standards and food assistance while cutting physical activity. These two policies have the ability to affect children, particularly those living in poverty, and their families. These policies will impact children throughout their lives by teaching them an unhealthy lifestyle that may continue into adulthood.
The 82nd Texas legislature faces difficult fiscal decisions that have pitted social services against each another. Due to the budget crisis, all populations will have social services and educational funds cut due to the lack of funding. The budget crisis stems from three main sources: (1) the national recession led to low spending and low sales tax revenue for the state; (2) a “structural deficit” was created by a previous legislature by reducing property taxes and not offsetting this reduction with corresponding spending reductions; and (3) Texas received federal stimulus money last legislative session, but did not get this same stimulus money as anticipated in the 82nd legislative session (Embry, 2010). The Legislative Budget Board states that the “structural deficit” is predicted to create a spending deficit of $10 billion every biennium if it is not changed, but lawmakers are hesitant to raise property taxes or sales tax due to possible political repercussions in next year’s reelections (Rapoport, 2011). In order to balance the budget, Governor Rick Perry has urged lawmakers to cut 10% from the Texas public education budget, and reduce public education spending to $14.2 billion (Z., 2011). Such cuts puts legislators in an incredibly difficult position of ranking the importance of social services and public programs in order to cut the services that are deemed less necessary. Physical education funding, specifically for low-income populations, is just one of the educational programs being cut from the budget. However, nutrition has garnered attention based on federal standards and funding has been increased.
Historical Background Physical education dates back into the early eighteenth century, but became a requirement largely after World War II in order to train young men to be prepared for the option of a draft for war. However, it was not until 1970 when the Federal Education Act required females to take physical education in public schools, when sexism was cited for the discrimination for girls not being able to participate (Texas Education Agency, 2011). In the 1950s, studies began to appear citing the importance of physical activity for children and families. In 1970, the YMCA got active in policy to address physical activity in public schools at the national level and became a leading advocacy group for children in schools receiving public education. In 1992, the YMCA got a