ESSA’s Title IV, Part A (which funds well-rounded education, safe and healthy students, and technology) has not received anywhere close to the $1.65B at which it was authorized under ESSA, through the appropriations process. For FY 2017, Title IV, Part A received a mere $400M for all (italics to emphasize all) states and school districts to support these vital whole child programs. States were given discretion on how to best distribute these funds.
This means that health and PE teachers need to be strong advocates for their programs if they want to receive funding under ESSA.
“States can divvy up ESSA funding however they choose,” notes Brian Devore, past-president of the Georgia Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (GAHPERD). With 181 school districts crafting funding priorities, the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) called for a series of feedback sessions to consider how the money would be allocated. Devore realized it would take a coordinated effort to make health education and physical education an integral part of ESSA planning in the state.
Working with the SHAPE America Public Policy & Advocacy office, GAHPERD keeps pressure on state decision-makers to drive home the need for funding.
Inspired by recent efforts in Kentucky and Minnesota to obtain maximum state funding and support for health and PE, Devore reached out to his counterparts in those states to garner potential ideas he could incorporate. He also contacted Carly Wright, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at SHAPE America, for guidance on how to marshal GAHPERD’s 700 members to give a human face to the campaign and enlighten state education leaders on the importance of health and physical education.
“We needed multiple voices to send a loud message and to seize every opportunity we had to speak out about the importance of robust health and PE programs in every school’s curriculum,” says Devore. He knew it was especially critical that GAHPERD members lend their vocal presence at every feedback session and share their personal stories online to the GaDOE.
Last year’s ESSA campaign mounted by the Kentucky Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD) had underscored the effectiveness of social media in reaching decision-makers. Devore decided to use the feedback sessions to create a social-media “blitz” to widely disperse the messages.
GAHPERD appealed to members to attend at least one feedback session, scheduled throughout Georgia. They arrived en masse — armed with talking points and eager for the chance to tell their personal stories. “No session had fewer than six speakers,” says Devore, who kept in close contact with SHAPE America. “During one of the feedback sessions, I was texting Carly Wright in real time for assistance in answering some of the technical questions being asked,” he says. “I wanted to make sure we were saying the right things.”
He sent GAHPERD’s 700 members an advocacy toolkit from SHAPE America and tips on how to harness social media, and led them by example — disseminating regular pro-PE messages on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. “We found photos, infographics and quotes about the benefits of exercise on the mind and body — and the importance of health and physical education,” Devore says.
Aware of GaDOE’s strong presence on Twitter, he targeted its stakeholders directly using the DOE hashtag in tweets. Almost immediately, the GaDOE started following GAHPERD and retweeting its messages.
GAHPERD maintained a “full-court press” on state decision-makers, using every possible opportunity to drive home the need for funding. “The GaDOE has kept its website link open so it can continue to collect feedback on ESSA,” says Devore. “We created a generic template with an open-ended space for members’ personal stories, and included it on our website and in our email blasts and newsletters,” he says. “We urged members to provide anecdotes from their own school or teaching careers as real-world examples of what was happening in the trenches.” GAHPERD also expressed its disappointment that only one member of any of the GaDOE committees had any connection to health and PE.
“It takes a lot of time to stay on top of things and a lot of people pulling together from all parts of the membership to make a difference,” Devore says. “We wanted to make sure the ball didn’t get dropped. Most importantly, when you know something is coming, it’s critical to get a plan together. We were lucky to be able to learn from Kentucky and Minnesota and have so many members ready and willing to pitch in.”
The campaign made a visible impact on the GaDOE’s awareness of the value of health and PE in the curriculum. “As feedback sessions were concluding in October 2016, the DOE’s Education of the Whole Child Committee asked GAHPERD to do a 10-minute presentation about what physical education and health education could contribute to educating the whole child,” Devore says. “It was a wonderful opportunity to give examples of how our content areas would enhance ESSA.”
Further proof of their success came in a letter from State Education Superintendent Richard Woods to the Governor of Georgia. “Both health and PE were singled out, and they were the first two subject areas listed as eligible for Title IV, Part A grants,” Devore says.
Moving forward, GAHPERD will continue to monitor how the state’s plan is implemented and continue to forge a strong relationship with the GaDOE. They will also keep a close eye on the exact amount of Title IV, Part A funds designated by Congress. “We will activate our Legislative Action Center to engage members to contact their representatives on any Title IV votes that occur,” says Devore. Social media will continue to play a key role in their efforts. Georgia will also send a large group of delegates to participate in SHAPE America’s 2018 SPEAK Out! Day, February 13-14, to advocate for Title IV on Capitol Hill.
“We’ve had a big victory, but we have to maintain our efforts to ensure that health and PE get the funding they deserve,” he says. “We’ve now got a solid plan in place and won’t back down.”