AUSTIN — In the continued fight against childhood obesity, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently offered the state’s public schools and charter schools an opportunity to receive $20 million in grants during the next two years to support in-school physical education, nutrition and fitness programs for students in grades six, seven and or eight.

Combs announced the new Texas Fitness Now grant program, aimed at middle school students attending schools where enrollment is at least 75 percent economically disadvantaged.

“Texas Fitness Now will provide crisis money for our schools,” Combs said. “Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes among children is an epidemic that we, as a state, must address now. Obesity cost Texas businesses an estimated $3.3 billion in 2005 and could cost employers $15.8 billion annually by 2025 if the trend continues.”

About 700 schools qualify for Texas Fitness Now grants. The minimum grant is $1,500 and schools can get more based upon their enrollment. More than 270,000 students could benefit from the grants.

“The U.S. Surgeon General’s office reports that overweight children have a 70 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults,” Combs said. “Texas Fitness Now will help teach kids the importance of physical activity and fitness and lay the foundation for a life of healthy choices and lifestyles as they grow into adulthood.”

Combs secured funding for the grants in the 2008-09 state budget (General Appropriations Act, Article III, Rider 89) and developed the rules for the Texas Fitness Now program in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency and other interested stakeholders. TEA will administer the program, evaluate grant applications and award the funds to schools.

“I appreciate the leadership Comptroller Combs has shown on improving the lives of Texas children. The Texas Education Agency is ready to work with her to improve the health and fitness of our students,” acting Commissioner of Education Robert Scott said.

To be eligible for a Texas Fitness Now grant, a school must ensure that students in grades six, seven and or eight participate in physical activity for either 30 minutes a day or 225 minutes per two-week period for the entire school year and must have a physical education curriculum that meets the standards of the National Association of Sports and Physical Education.

In addition, the school must:

Have or be in the process of adopting a Coordinated School Health Program required by the Texas Education Code; Have a quality physical education program based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills that combines education, fitness and nutrition; Have submitted a wellness and nutrition policy to the Texas Department of Agriculture as required by law; Have established a School Health Advisory Council to review and make recommendations for using the grant; Have certified physical education teacher(s); and Conduct a campus fitness evaluation before Oct. 15 and again at the end of the school year, using an assessment instrument adopted by the state education commissioner and provided free-of-charge to participating schools.

The Texas Association of School Boards said Texas Fitness Now grants could help participating schools become models for fitness education throughout the state.

“This program rewards innovative thinking in the fight against childhood obesity,” said Julie Shields, TASB’s assistant director of governmental relations. “It motivates districts to get creative in their physical education classes, but at the same time, it also recognizes that to develop these programs for Texas students costs money. Hopefully, all Texas students will benefit from lessons learned at those schools thinking outside of the box and getting results.”

Texas Fitness Now grants may be used to support and enhance physical education, including buying PE equipment; buying equipment to track students’ progress, such as heart monitors and pedometers; selecting or developing an effective physical education curriculum and instructional materials; and training teachers and school administrators to help their students become fit and adopt healthy lifestyles. Schools must use at least 25 percent of the funds for nutrition education.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples particularly applauds the program’s nutrition component. The Texas Department of Agriculture oversees the state’s school nutrition policy.

“A well-balanced diet and plenty of exercise are vital for the health and well-being of all Texans - especially our young Texans,” Staples said. “Texas farmers and ranchers are natural partners in producing and providing healthy, nutritious food for children and will be strong allies in all school fitness efforts. I applaud the Legislature and Comptroller Combs for their foresight on this program.”

The Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance commends the Texas Fitness Now program.

“There are two major challenges for our professionals to deliver a quality physical education program in Texas schools; one is funding, and the other is the large teacher to student ratio,” executive director Diana Everett said. “This grant program will enable many of our teachers and administrators to address at least one of our challenges. Through the Texas Fitness Now grant program, professional physical educators can seek the equipment and resources to teach lifetime habits of physical activity and fitness to their students.”

“We believe we will see measurable, positive results from incorporating more activity into the school day and teaching students to make healthier choices,” Combs said. “We urge all eligible schools to take advantage of this opportunity to start solving the childhood obesity problem.”

The deadline for schools to apply for a Texas Fitness Now grant is Oct. 1. More information, including program guidelines and a list of frequently asked questions, is available online at the comptroller’s Web site: The actual grant application is available on TEA’s Web site at Schools may also contact Marissa Rathbone at TEA, (512) 463-3064, for more information about the Texas Fitness Now program, or TEA’s Division of Formula Funding, (512) 463-8525, for more information about grant funding.