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Question of the Month ~ November 2015


Q. Do local school districts charge participation fees for students to participate in extracurricular activities, and do any states ban such fees?

According to a 2013 survey by the National Federation of High School Associations, school districts in 21 states — including Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin — reported having participation fees in excess of $100 per student, per sport. Because there are no national current surveys or studies showing the percentage of U.S. schools that have instituted “pay to play” fees, the prevalence of their use within a state is not always clear. However, there are some anecdotal examples:
• In Michigan, a little more than half of the high schools in the state assessed sports participation fees, ranging from $25 to $425 per student, in 2014-2015.
• In response to a 2014 survey by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, 46 percent of athletic directors in that state said their schools had some type of participation fee. That is up from 42 percent in a 2011 survey.
The idea behind these fees is to cut schools’ expenses related to various extracurricular activities (everything from sports and science club, to band or drama clubs) and to free up taxpayer dollars for other uses. But concerns have been raised about whether these fees prevent low-income students from participating in extracurricular activities.
According to a national poll conducted by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, one in seven parents whose children did not play middle school or high school sports cited cost as the reason. In addition, only 30 percent of families earning below $60,000 per year had a child playing school sports, compared to 51 percent of families earning more than that amount. That same survey revealed the following:
• Sixty-one percent of respondents reported having to pay in order for their children to participate in middle school and high school sports.
• Only 6 percent of respondents got a waiver from the participation fee (12 percent for lower-income participants).
• The average cost of school athletic fees was $126 per child.
The benefits of participating in high school sports extend well beyond the playing field: lower dropout rates; improved health and reduced obesity; lessons on teamwork, work ethic and commitment; and enhanced leadership roles.
Concerned that pay-to-play fees limit student opportunities, some lawmakers have proposed curbing or eliminating these charges. In 2012, California lawmakers passed legislation (AB 1575) that prevents school districts from requiring students to pay a fee for a number of educational activities, including attendance at summer school, the use of books and lab equipment or supplies, and participation in sports. Schools are permitted to ask parents for a donation.
In Ohio, Sen. Cliff Hite, a former teacher who spent 22 years as a high school football coach, has been holding hearings across the state to learn about pay-to-play policies in school districts and to determine what lawmakers might do to either eliminate or cut those fees.


Article written by Laura Tomaka, CSG Midwest senior program manager. Question of the Month highlights a research inquiry received by CSG Midwest.