Pay-for-Play: Balancing Budgets on the Backs of Poor Students
"Some things are worth more than money," Wayne Washowich, School Board President, McKeesport, PA
A colleague recently asked my opinion of charging students fees for participating in sports and other activities.
I grew up in Western Pennsylvania and I know that high school sports are "an integral part of many communities." According to an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, "athletic fees started in California and New England in the early 1970s as a result of state budget issues. For decades, the fees remained isolated in a few areas of the country. A 2005 study from the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association found that about a third of their member districts reported charging athletic participation fees, with 80 percent of the fees below $50.
Schools across the country are in the midst of huge budgetary shortfalls. School officials admit that charging fees for participating in sports will not bring in enough revenue to balance a district budget.
Charging any fees is a regressive approach to balancing the budget, because fees target the poorest and most under-resourced students and schools. To middle class families, fees are an inconvenience. To poor, working class families, fees are the difference between participating in sports, clubs, or college-level courses and not participating.
The good news is that some officials understand that "many students wouldn't be able to pay the fees and would not participate in sports or activities if it required any payment. We might as well tell the kids, 'Go ahead and walk the streets because you can't play,' and we'd never do that."