Look at recess mandate for Florida elementary schools through longer lens, lawmakers say
Parents across Florida who've been advocating for mandatory daily recess in all elementary schools have grown notably enthusiastic as the proposal gains steam in both chambers of the Legislature.
The idea's primary opponent in the Senate, John Legg, no longer sits in the upper body. And its two holdouts in the House, Speaker Richard Corcoran and Rep. Michael Bileca, appear mollified by provisions in the latest version of the legislation.
But that doesn't mean the concept doesn't still have its skeptics. Two of them raised some notes of caution Thursday during a Senate PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee discussion on the topic.
Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who heads the state superintendents association, noted that the debate should be much bigger than just recess.
"This is symbolic of a far greater issue" said Montford, who in the past has helped Republican leaders craft key education legislation. "That is, how many hours we have in a school day, what we expect out of these children during the day, and how much we are mandating and cramming into those limited number of hours."
He reflected on past issues before the Legislature that caused a similar domino effect. At one point, Montford noted, students faced more stringent physical education requirements. When lawmakers wanted to focus on academics, they reduced the P.E. mandate.
Health advocates soon came to push for added physical education, he continued, and so lawmakers added it at the expense, often, of the arts. Lawmakers also rejected a proposal for a half-credit graduation requirement in financial literacy, Montford recalled, because of the roadblock of where to add it in the school day.
"This is an important issue, recess, but I think we need to look at it in a more holistic way," he said.
Chairman David Simmons, a strong proponent of longer school days for academic reasons, advised the committee that the recess bill needs a financial vetting, as well.
If it requires 20 minutes of daily recess, Simmons said, "The question is, How do you pay for that?"
"Do you extend the day by 20 minutes so you can include that? Then, of course, if that were to occur, you would have a group of employees, teachers, justifiably saying, 'Well, I'm there for an extra 20 minutes. I expect to be paid for it,'" Simmons said. "If that's the case, what would it cost?"
If recess were to displace another program, he added, that, too, could carry a cost.
"We're going to have to address that within this committee," Simmons said.
The public school recess bill is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 21. It next would go to the PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee.