By Jared Janzen
BENTLEY—Marlys Gwaltney let her voice be heard last week as she met with legislators and their staffs in the nation’s capital, advocating for increased funding for physical education classes and teachers’ professional development.
Gwaltney, who teaches physical education at Bentley Primary School, was one of 150 advocates from across the country taking part in the Society of Health and Physical Educators twelfth-annual Speak Out day, last week.
“It was a unique experience, or an eye-opening experience, that they’re just normal people and they sit down and talk with you, they listen to your concerns and they ask questions,” Gwaltney said about her experience at Capitol Hill.
Flying out to Washington, D.C., on March 4, after school and returning late on March 6, Gwaltney said the trip had been a whirlwind. She said she and the 149 other advocates had spent six hours on Tuesday in meetings together to prepare what to say and then Wednesday was when they split up to meet with legislators from their respective states. The group of advocates represented 38 different states.
Gwaltney was one of three representatives from Kansas, along with P.E. teacher Wendy Scholten and her eighth-grade granddaughter, Tirzah, both of whom had participated in Speak Out, the day before.
The three of them met with staff from four of Kansas’s six legislators—Jerry Moran, Ron Estes, Steve Watkins and Pat Roberts. They also met with representative Sharice Davids, in person. Each of these meetings lasted 25-30 minutes.
“We always asked how their physical education experience was when they were growing up, and, with Sharice Davids, it was her favorite subject in school, so it’s always nice to hear that,” Gwaltney said.
The office of representative Roger Marshall was unable to meet with them.
Gwaltney and her fellow advocates had three requests of legislators. The first was that Title IV Part A—which includes health and physical education programs—receive the amount of funding that was recommended when the Every Student Succeeds Act was implemented in 2015. This recommended amount was $1.6 billion, but during ESSA’s first year, these programs only received 400 million.
“That was for every school district across the nation to divide up that pie, which would have been a few hundred dollars at best to go to each school,” she said.
Last year, Title IV Part A received $1.1 billion. Gwaltney said this was an improvement, but they’d still like to reach the $1.6 billion of recommended funding.
She said they had explained during their Capitol Hill meetings that physical education helps students become better learners in other subjects, like math and reading, and is an important part of a balanced education.
The second request was for funding for teachers’ professional development, under ESSA. For the past three years, this has been funded at $468 million, when the recommended amount is $2.295 billion.
“As a person who’s been able to go to a variety of professional development opportunities, I feel like I’ve grown as an educator,” Gwaltney said. “I’ve received a few honors in the past couple years and I hope it’s because I’ve kept growing as an educator, instead of just doing the same thing, year after year.”
Gwaltney and her fellow Kansas advocates asked each office if they would support these requests.
“Every one of the offices came back with a positive affirmation that they may not be able to fund at the levels that we asked for, but they definitely won’t take any money away,” she said. “And in this era of budget cuts and cutting education and things of that nature, we saw that as a win.”
Gwaltney also invited the legislators to come visit USD-440.
“I told them we have some great things to show them at USD-440,” she said.
Gwaltney’s opportunity to take part in Speak Out Day arose through her role as past president of KAPHERD, a state organization for P.E. teachers.
This sort of advocacy was a new experience for Gwaltney, but she said it’s something she could see herself doing again in the future, perhaps at the state level.
“Who’s knows, maybe when I retire, I’ll get to go more when I have a little more flexibility in my time schedule,” she said.
She said she couldn’t recall any other teacher from USD-440 advocating in Washington, D.C., during her 22 years teaching at BPS.
The busy two-day schedule only allowed Gwaltney about an hour-and-a-half for taking in the sights of Washington, D.C., but she did get to see the White House, the Washington Memorial and the World War II memorial, which was meaningful to her, because her father had been a WWII veteran.