Sen. Warren Petersen
Julia Shumway/Tucson Sentinel

The way Sen. Warren Petersen sees it, elementary school children are being rushed through lunch and recess by schools who are fearful of losing state aid.

So, the Gilbert Republican is proposing to give them more time. He has crafted legislation to say that schools can count the time students spend at lunch and at recess toward the minimum required by Arizona law to be considered full-time students for purposes of state aid.

State law requires students in grades 1 through 3 to have at least 712 hours of instruction a year to be counted when the Department of Education divides up aid. That’s four hours a day over the normal 180-day school year.

For those in grades 4 through 6, the minimum is 890 hours, or 4.5 hours each day.

The problem, Petersen said, is that the time a student spends eating lunch, or even in recess, does not count.

“It motivates schools to shrink lunch and recess,” Petersen told Capitol Media Services. He prefers a different test to determine a full-time student.

“If you’re in school first class and last class, that’s sufficient,” he said.

Petersen acknowledged the measure appears to run counter to efforts to ensure that students get more “seat time" in classrooms, in front of teachers. But he said that presumes things like lunch and time away from class are frivolous and unnecessary.

“They need the break,” he said. “They need the activity.”

And Petersen said it doesn’t do a student any good to have to gobble down lunch in 20 minutes to ensure that there is enough actual classroom time to qualify for state aid.

He acknowledged that his legislation, SB 1008, could theoretically lead to abuses. And Petersen said it’s not his intent to encourage schools to have two-hour lunches and four-hour recesses knowing that it won’t trigger a reduction in state funds.

But he said it’s wrong to consider education being only what occurs in class and not what occurs elsewhere, including on the playground.

“It’s a necessary part of the day,” Petersen said.

There is precedent for what he wants to do.

Last year, the Legislature approved a measure which did something similar for high schools. It spells out that any hours a student is scheduled to be in school count toward whether that person is considered a full-time student.

That same law also redefines time in class for “instructional purposes” to include not only core subjects and electives but also lunch, study halls, music instruction “and other classes that advance the academic instruction of pupils.” But that law, approved with near unanimous bipartisan support, does have limits, with athletic practices and extracurricular clubs and activities not counted.

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