Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pay to Play in school sports is a bad idea

Rapid City schools are going to need to make some significant changes and cuts to programs.  This will have a significant impact on the students and community.  One of the more consistent arguments to reduce school spending is to make extra-curricular activities pay-to-play.  This is something that gets brought up a lot when it comes to school funding and a response to why there is no need for increased funding from the state.  I think it is important to offer some counter-arguments as to why making schools implement a pay-to-play scheme is a really disastrous idea.  To be fair, I need to make it known that I coach an co-curricular activity; speech and debate.  This will be a multiple series of blogs to avoid them becoming too long.

1. Pay-to-play will hurt lower and middle-class students.
School has always been one of the great equalizers if fighting income inequality.  It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, schools will work to provide a quality educational opportunity to all it sees.  It cannot overcome those that can afford private tutors, going on amazing trips for educational experiences, or people that can afford private coaches.  However, when I have a student sitting in my classroom, I don't care how much his or her parents make, I care if they are learning.  When a student tells me they want to debate, I don't care how much money he or she brings to the table, but are they going to work and grow as a speaker and a thinker.

When activities need to start charging a fee for children to play, it drives students away from the activity. Students and the parents see the burden and are then forced to make a hard choice.  A recent survey of parents supports this idea:
Sports participation among lower-income students decreased by 10% compared to the May 2012 poll on the same subject. Even among parents in higher-income households, nearly 1 in 10 parents said their child had decreased sports participation because of cost – twice as high as reported in 2012. 
I have seen the struggle from students, and we do not charge students to participate in the activity.  We do ask that they pay for meals while we are at tournaments and any other costs.  Every weekend, I seem to have one student that will pass on McDonald's on the way home at six o'clock because they do not have money.  I once had a student tell me that they did not know if they could go to the state competition because they did not have money to eat.  Talked to my administrator and looked for ways to provide some monetary support to all students so they can get some food.  We now look at ways to bring snacks, water, and other items to support them while they compete, so that can help reduce costs.

You may be thinking that it really doesn't cost that much.  If they really want to do it, then the parents can come up with the money.  If I had to ask a student to come up with the costs of going to debate tournaments, (we always looking for the best deal available which can be seen in my students' face when we pull up to some of the hotels) it would probably be about $300-$500 per student.  It would hurt the program and it would prevent a learning experience for students.

Sarah Clarke, a research scientist with University of Michigan and associate director of the National Poll on Children's Health, stated about the 2015 survey mentioned earlier but on the University of Michigan Health System website:
The poll found the average school sports participation fee was $126 per child; while 38 percent paid $0 in participation fees—some receiving waivers for those fees—18 percent paid $200 or more. 
In addition to the participation fees, parents in the poll reported an average of $275 in other sports-related costs like equipment and travel. 
“So the average cost for sports participation was $400 per child. For many families, that cost is out of reach,” Clark says.
When people argue that schools should not support extra-curricular activities and they should be pay-to-play, then remember that they are looking for ways to exclude students from participating.  That exclusion has an impact (I will talk more about that in a later post) for the child.  This is not what public education is supposed to be about.  

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