The effort to require daily recess for Georgia elementary school students has come up short again – this time thanks to Gov. Brian Kemp’s veto pen.
Kemp vetoed House Bill 83 on Friday along with several other bills. In his veto message, the governor said the recess requirement “would impose unreasonable burdens on educational leaders without meaningful justification.’’
“While I support expanded recess opportunities for Georgia’s students, I am a firm believer in local control, especially in education,’’ Kemp stated. He said House Bill 83 would dramatically restrict this local control, stripping long-held authority from school boards.
Similar recess proposals had failed under the Gold Dome in recent years, but in the recently completed General Assembly session, the legislation passed easily. It encouraged schools to make recess 30 minutes.
The bill was backed by public health and children’s advocates, who noted that recess can help improve academic performance and reduce fidgety behavior and negative conduct in the classroom.
Polly McKinney of the advocacy group Voices for Georgia’s Children said Saturday that “while we are disappointed in the governor’s veto of the recess bill, we are nevertheless pleased that the General Assembly showed true commitment to a policy which can reduce child misbehavior in class, improve academic outcomes and combat childhood obesity — all at the same time.
“We hope that by raising the stature of recess in this bill that the conversation about these worthy goals will continue.”
Rep. Demetrius Douglas, a former Georgia Bulldog linebacker and currently a Henry County high school football coach, was lead sponsor of the bill. He pushed the recess idea for three years.
Douglas, a Stockbridge Democrat, pointed to the high child obesity rate in the state. One-third of Georgia children ages 10-17 were overweight or obese in 2017.
“It’s a health initiative first,’’ he said of the recess bill. “It’s about our future. These kids will be running our state.’’
Recess has a long history in U.S. schools.
Years ago, however, an increased emphasis on standardized testing led many school districts in the nation to cut into recess in favor of more instruction in class. Recently that trend has reversed, with states such as Florida and Rhode Island requiring recess.
The idea that a break for physical activity wastes valuable academic time has given way to an understanding that activities like recess have their own value. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010 an association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance among school-aged youth.
Fewer than 1 in 3 American children get enough exercise every week. If they don’t become more active, more than 8 million will be obese by their 18th birthday — and their health care and lost productivity as adults could cost the country close to $3 trillion, according to a study in the journal Health Affairs.
Kemp also vetoed another health-related measure – a pilot program for covering prescription drugs for the treatment and management of obesity and related conditions for the State Health Benefit Plan, which covers schoolteachers, other school personnel, state employees and retirees.
The governor said the program would be too costly and cause higher premiums for state employees.
Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News