AUSTIN - About two-thirds of the 10 million schoolchildren in Texas are not up to physical fitness standards, according to a study by a private company and funded by $2.5 million in private donations.

The Texas Education Agency on July 1 publicized preliminary results after 2.6 million of the state’s 3.4 million children in grades 3-12 were tested.

Test results show elementary school kids tend to be more fit than older kids. Roughly one-third of third-grade boys and girls tested in the “Healthy Fitness Zone.” Testing revealed that an even lower rate of middle school students scored in the zone and that high school students were less fit than middle-schoolers.

The testing measures body composition, aerobic capacity, strength, endurance and flexibility. Each student must have a skin fold test and attempt a one-mile run, curl-ups, pushups, trunk lift and shoulder stretches.

Parents or guardians may obtain a copy of their child’s “Fitnessgram” report from the child’s school.

The legislation that instituted the testing and daily physical exercise requirements was written by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, and sponsored by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. This issue has a cash side to it. According to the TEA, the Texas comptroller found that Texas businesses spent an estimated $3.3 billion in 2005 on costs related to obesity. Costs included disability coverage, lower productivity, absenteeism and health care.

Steroid testing results released

These are preliminary results, but in the spring term only two out of more than 10,000 Texas high school athletes tested positive for anabolic steroids in their systems in a random screening program

mandated by SB 8 passed by the 80th Texas Legislature in 2007. Student-athletes in grades 9-12, regardless of sport, gender or participation level are subject to screening. The University Interscholastic League said 40,000 to 50,000 student-athletes will have been screened by the end of the 2008-2009 school year. The program costs the state $3 million to administer.

Branch named to powerful board

Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick on July 1 appointed state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, to the Legislative Budget Board.

Branch replaces state Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, who resigned from the post. Hill, 68, is not seeking reelection in the fall. Hill was elected to the House in 1988 and is the 13th most senior member of the 150-member chamber. Branch, 50, elected to the Dist. 108 House seat in 2002, plans to seek a third two-year term. The 10-member Legislative Budget Board was created by statute in 1949. The board analyzes, develops and recommends appropriations for all state governmental agencies and provides the Texas Legislature with a state budget at the beginning of each regular legislative session.

Craddick and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst serve as joint chairs of the board. Besides Branch, other members include Senate Finance Committee Chair Steve Ogden, R-College Station; House Committee on Appropriations Chair Warren Chism, R-Pampa; Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock; Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland; Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; and Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

Meanwhile, on the subject of budgets and budgeteers, Gov. Rick Perry on July 2 named Mary Katherine Stout as his director of budget, planning and policy.

The Texas A&M graduate has been serving as vice president of policy and director for Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Health Care Policy.

The foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan, research institute based in Austin.

Craddick vs. Dingus in November

Speaker Craddick will face an opponent in the November general election: Democrat Bill Dingus of Midland, a recent former member of the Midland city council.

Dingus resigned from the city council on April 21 and announced his candidacy for the seat occupied by Craddick for the last 38 years. The Republican Party of Texas contested that Dingus was ineligible to run because he was still serving on the city council when he filed for candidacy.

A Travis County state district court ruled Dingus not in conflict with the state’s prohibition on dual officeholding and eligible to run.