Originally Published: February 3, 2017 6 a.m.
Imagine for a second you are in charge of a school district in the White Mountains of Arizona and you look outside to a dozen inches of fresh snow. You pick up your local newspaper and read how some lawmakers down in the desert city of Phoenix are considering mandating that all of the state’s schools offer 50 minutes of unstructured recess each day to kindergarten through fifth grade.
The sponsors talk about the benefits of sunshine and getting outdoors. You look back outside at all that snow, and chuckle.
A popular political belief is that local control is best. The people who are closest to the problems usually have a better idea on how to fix something than those hundreds of miles away, who aren’t looking out at a dozen inches of snow on the ground.
The state House Education Committee approved HB 2082 on Monday, which would be another unfunded mandate by the state to local school districts. Local school districts were not asked for their feedback.
The backers, led by Democrat Jesus Rubalcava of Gila Bend, say the research and Rubalcava’s own experience as a teacher show that requiring 50 minutes of recess a day for K-5 students will lead to healthier children who are better prepared to learn.
That is likely true. Giving students with limited attention spans a chance to play will likely help them concentrate later. The problem we have is there was no mention of how to pay for this.
Will it require hiring more people to supervise the children? Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard said it would require shuffling of instruction time and hiring additional staff.
School districts are struggling with finances as the state continues to raid their capital improvement funds and balk to supply the education dollars that both the voters and courts have told them they need to provide.
To come to districts and say, “here is yet another unfunded mandate for you to meet. Good luck with that,” is not fair. Lawmakers in the desert should not be mandating how schools in the White Mountains — or elsewhere — organize their recess time.
What they should be doing is figuring out how to provide schools the funding they need to meet all the other mandates the state has handed down. And then they should take a step back and remember that local districts usually know what’s best for their students, and to trust them to decide the right course.