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Published: Saturday, 5/2/2009

The price of honor

SCHOOLS in Ohio - like everyone else, everywhere else - are feeling the economic crunch and looking for creative ways to increase revenues. One popular vehicle is to require students to pay to participate in sports, band, choir, and other activities.

But one school board in suburban Cleveland went too far when it voted to charge students $100 each to be members of - are you ready? - the National Honor Society.

The Richmond Heights School Board needed to close a $346,000 deficit projected for next year and, rather than eliminate all sports, activities, and clubs, decided to charge for participation: $350 per student per sport or activity, such as band or choir, and $100 each for clubs such as NHS, up to a maximum of $1,000 per family.

That's not so unusual. Some schools have charged students to play football or, less frequently, to sing in the choir. More have used pay-to-play as an effective threat to get voters to approve school levies.

The National Honor Society, however, is the most country's oldest and most prestigious organization recognizing high school students of outstanding scholarship, character, leadership, and service. And schools exist almost exclusively to nurture and develop these traits in the students placed in their care.

The rationale behind the fee is that administering the program costs money and the cash-strapped school has no choice but to pass those costs on. But even now the school board is wrestling with what to do about students who qualify for membership in NHS but can't afford the $100 fee.

Certainly, no student ought to be denied membership because of an inability to pay, but the issue is broader than that. If fostering these characteristics is education's core mission, it seems to us that administrative costs must be borne by the school, which does, after all, benefit from being able to claim National Honor Society members among its graduates.

Shame on voters in the Richmond Heights district for voting down six straight school levies. And double shame on the district's board for trying to make up the shortfall at the expense of students who have fulfilled their academic bargain with their school.

What's next, charging students a fee for making the honor roll?

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