Pay to Play - Worth the Cost?
J. C. Tilton
Pay to play is something that is happening more and more frequently in Ohio. Is this a short term fad that that will pass? Or is it something that will gradually become the norm for schools across Ohio? Will all children at some point have to pay in order to participate in sports, band, cheerleading, and other extracurricular activities at school? My focus is on sports of course, but I think that all activities have their merits in adding to a child's education.
Why did this start happening? Well schools regularly need to approach voters to pass levy's to provide revenue to operate. The way that Property taxes are levied doesn't always keep pace with expenses. Many of the schools costs are fixed, the building has to be maintained, powered and heated. Teachers have to be paid and need to have pay increases to keep pace with inflation. There are not many options to cut out spending if a levy fails. Bussing and extra curricular activities are two area's that schools cut if they need to save money. Years ago the sports season was simply cancelled. But voters wanted a chance to still do sports even if they had to pay out pocket. So pay to play was born. At some schools each activity is given a cost that is divided among the students. At other schools it is a blanket policy, each activity costs a set amount and that is it.
How do the fee's affect participation? The fee charged varies from the responses that I got, the lowest was a cross country runner at Centerville who had to pay $60, while other schools fee's could be around the $500 mark for each activity. From the feedback I got, the higher the fee the lower the participation as one would expect. There were creative ways to help pay the fee's. Fundraising, Community Sponsors, athletes working to raise money to play and so forth. Still it took extra effort to raise the money and not all were willing. One parent from an inner city district said that half the parents lived under the federal poverty level, if a levy failed there it would be unlikely that they could field any teams at all.
Early in the countries history sports were an after thought. But as schools consolidated sports, band, and other activities became increasingly a part of the curriculum. But what was the value? Sure students learn basics in their regular classes, but being part of an organization shows students how to work together. Leadership - students learn how to become leaders outside the classroom. Sports teach students how to deal with failure on one hand and how to work towards goals on another. I recall reading an article about a marketing manager who stated that they wanted new employee's from college to have a sports background in high school. “The straight A student may have never dealt with failure, they don't know how to react when things don't go right. Sometimes they don't know how to set goals. But students who participate in athletics have had to deal with failure, they can take a no and bounce back. They have also learned to work towards goals. If I see two resumes from newly graduated students that are equal and one has high school athletics and the other doesn't, I will go for the athlete every time.” So there are benefits from sports as well as other activities outside the classroom.
There are short term benefits as well. School lets out early in the afternoon and with many parents working, students have lots of spare time on their hands. Many stated that they liked their kid participating in something because they knew where they were at and what they were doing. It also gave them a focus. Maybe school overall was not interesting, but band, or cheerleading, or whatever the activity gave them a desire that they otherwise would not have.
What if the trend continues in the direction towards pay to play? I see more and more one sport athletes who concentrate on say volleyball or basketball to the exclusion of other sports simply because it is too expensive to be a three sport athlete. And if you have 2 or 3 kids in school doing sports at the same time, it is a big hit in the wallet. Kids from poor backgrounds may simply not participate due to cost. What if you pay $500 and your kid rides the pine? Will there be even more pressure on coaches to perform? With open enrollment, I may not want my kid to play on a losing team, I may want to enroll them instead in a school with a winning program. For $500 I want my kid to at least be on a winning team. Sports will become more elitist. It would be a shame.
There is part of the population that believes that it is the role of school to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic and that is it. Maybe they are right, maybe we stretch the role of the school too much. But from being able to travel around and see other societies, I think that our kids need to be as well rounded as possible. Not only are these kids competing against each other for jobs, but also competing against other young folks around the world. When we instill competition, the ability to organize, work for the good of a team and the desire to win in our youth, we are priming them to compete in a competitive world.
What a lot of people forget in this debate is that many years ago the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that our system of school funding is unconstitutional. The people who are supposed to be our leaders have been inactive. There has been no real initiative to do any thing to change funding. Until they come up with an alternative plan, I see more kids being short changed by pay to play. Comments email: Chris Tilton