Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Pay, and pay, to play

A young person’s development occurs as much outside of academics as it does in the classroom. Ask students which activities have most affected their intellectual, creative, and moral development, and they are likely to name a sports, arts, or debate program. But because of a dearth of public funding, extracurricular programs are becoming inaccessible to an increasing number of local students.

Bowling Green City Schools is the latest Toledo area public school district to approve a “pay to play” policy for some extracurricular activities. During the past two decades, an ever-growing number of area schools have begun charging middle and high-school students to participate in athletics.

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The Ohio High School Athletic Association estimates that half of the state’s school districts have pay-to-play policies, charging as much as several hundred dollars for a student’s first sport. Some policies, such as Bowling Green’s, also charge students for nonathletic activities such as drama and Quiz Bowl.

No school district happily adopts pay-to-play policies. But Ohio school districts have been compelled by shrinking state aid to sacrifice extracurricular programs. Schools will get an aid increase under the funding formula in the new two-year state budget, but that support will still be below 2010-11 levels.

At the same time, school officials say local property taxes are proving an unreliable source of school funding. This year, Toledo Public Schools lost almost $2 million in property tax revenue. Voters in TPS and other local districts have defeated school tax levies in recent years. To make matters worse, Ohio schools are due to lose $66 million in federal funding in 2013-14.

Many school districts have made a good-faith effort to keep activities affordable for students. The Fremont school district has kept the cost of its pay-to-participate program from increasing since 2006, even as the cost of sports programs has continued to rise annually.

Fremont also offers activities scholarships on a sliding scale to students with limited ability to pay; they are funded by community businesses, organizations, and other donors. The scholarships have helped ensure that participation in athletics in Fremont has not declined.

But schools should not be expected to seek private funding for programs that should be basic components of public education. Securing outside funds is never a guarantee, and some districts have seen a drop in student participation since they launched pay-to-play as a result.

Schools provide a public service that pays dividends to our communities. But that can occur only if communities support them with adequate resources.

In a tough economy, taxpayers and lawmakers are understandably reluctant to increase spending. But it is precisely at such a time that Americans cannot afford to skimp on public education.

Extracurricular activities are not only critical to young adults’ development. They are also expected by virtually any college with competitive admissions.

The only way to secure our nation’s future is to invest in opportunities for young people. That means funding programs that develop students’ capacities, both inside and outside the classroom.

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