Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pay-to-Play: Fair or Foul? Confronted with Rising Costs and Shrinking Funding, Districts Have Come Up with the Idea of Charging Students to Participate in Extracurricular Activities. According to Ms. Hoff and Mr. Mitchell, There Are Much Better Ways for Schools to Make Their Programs Affordable

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Pay-to-Play: Fair or Foul? Confronted with Rising Costs and Shrinking Funding, Districts Have Come Up with the Idea of Charging Students to Participate in Extracurricular Activities. According to Ms. Hoff and Mr. Mitchell, There Are Much Better Ways for Schools to Make Their Programs Affordable

Article excerpt

IMAGINE the exhilaration as high school students throughout the country suit up for their first practice, polish their instruments, and prepare for their upcoming games and events with high-fives all around. This excitement, however, is quickly replaced with anxiety, even dismay, as many of these same students learn that they must first pay a participation fee, which may mean they will not be able to take part after all. "Pay-to-play" is catching on across the country--sometimes with harsh consequences for students and schools.

No one doubts that the cost of running a school district is staggering. Fuel for heat and buses, salaries and benefits for employees, and ever-changing curricular demands combine to put enormous pressure on superintendents and school boards to cut spending and raise revenues. In many districts, state and local funding is shrinking, and extracurricular activities are often the first items to be put on the chopping block. (1)

Extracurricular activities, particularly sports, have a longstanding tradition in public schools. School teams were originally seen as a means of giving boys a way to channel their energy in a positive direction while giving the entire student body a rallying point for school pride. Over the years, both the scope and inclusiveness of such programs have expanded, and the benefits of sports and other activities have been well-documented by practitioners and scholars alike. (2)

Meanwhile, the cost of running extracurricular programs has risen steeply. The cost for transporting students to competitions or conferences has increased for all competitive clubs and activities, as have the stipends for club sponsors. Expenditures for sports, however, have increased the most dramatically. As competition and the potential for college scholarships have increased, so have the costs of maintaining competitive programs, which demand expert coaching, high-tech training equipment, and better facilities. In addition, the litigious nature of our society pressures schools into buying the best protective equipment for athletes, adding coaches for increased supervision, and paying for additional liability insurance. It is no wonder that many schools are looking for ways to offset the heavy costs of these extracurricular programs.

Enter the concept of pay-to-play, which shifts some of the financial burden of extracurricular activities to students and their families. At the low end of the price spectrum, some school districts in Maine recently enacted policies to charge fees ranging from $15 to $50 a year for any student who wishes to participate in any number of extracurricular activities. At the high end, a high school on the West Coast charges students for each sport or activity, with fees of $1,500 for cheerleading, $1,000 for football, and $800 for marching band. (3) And in the states in between, fees range widely but are clearly becoming more and more common. A poll taken in 2004 showed that 34 states had at least some schools charging fees for extracurricular participation. (4)

Whether the fee is large or small, however, is beside the point. Once established, fees tend to increase as the costs of programs escalate and as parents become desensitized to the policy. More crucial are what these fees represent for our "public" school system and the potentially negative consequences for students--particularly those from underprivileged families, for whom fees can represent significant barriers to participation. Some schools make the argument that they have "fee waivers" for those who cannot afford to pay. While such concessions are well meant, we believe that pay-to-play remains a bad idea. Whether priced high or low, with or without fee waivers, the policy is indefensible from a legal perspective, from a student's perspective, and from a societal perspective. The negative consequences are not offset by the limited revenues generated.

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS

State constitutions across the nation include guarantees of "free public education. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.