HPE students, faculty participate in ‘Speak Out! Day’ on Capitol Hill

The WCU contingent pauses on the steps of the U.S. Capitol during a visit to Washington, D.C., that included advocating for health and physical education funding. The group includes (front, from left) Associate Professor Gayle Wells; students Kendall Buchanan, Ashlee Caraker and Logan Craig; (back, from left) Assistant Professor Tom Watterson; and students Cody McCombs and Dustin Kokot.

In response to serious threats of cuts in federal funding for the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, two faculty members and five students from Western Carolina University’s Health and Physical Education Program visited Capitol Hill on Feb. 13-14 to advocate for full funding to support professional development for teachers and health and physical education programs in schools.

Tom Watterson and Gayle Wells of the program faculty were joined by students Kendall Buchanan, Ashlee Caraker, Logan Craig, Dustin Kokot and Cody McCombs, and more than 150 other individuals representing 42 states, in taking part in “SPEAK Out! Day,” the 11th annual member advocacy day for SHAPE America – Society of Health and Physical Educators.

When ESSA was passed in 2015, health and physical education were designated as part of a well-rounded education, making those subjects eligible for federal education funding for the first time, Watterson said. Under a new program, Title IV, Part A, schools will receive funding to support a well-rounded education, safe and healthy student programs, and effective use of technology.

“Despite Title IV, Part A, being authorized at $1.65 billion in ESSA, Congress only appropriated $400 million to support these vital programs for fiscal year 2017,” Watterson said. “As Congress reconciles appropriations for fiscal year 2018 and beyond, several proposals in Congress would also significantly underfund ESSA and put health and physical education at risk of not being able to thrive in schools.”

“Under this block grant, we are going to be competing with many other subject areas and programs for financial support,” he said. “We need to make sure that the pot of money is as large as possible to ensure that health and physical education programs will have the chance to access at least a portion of that funding.”

During Capitol Hill meetings, teachers and advocates offered insight and perspective on the negative impact of marginalizing health and physical education in schools. They also shared success stories and the links that exist between health, physical education and academic achievement.

For more information, contact Watterson at 828-227-3551 or tawatterson@wcu.edu.