Student Fees
Blog: From the Director
Posted Friday, November 13, 2009

Here, from Muskegon-based Education Action Group in late August, is a different route to the same opinion we have about participation fees – so-called “pay-for-play.”

 “About once a week we’ve been tripping across newspaper headlines that make our blood boil.  This week’s head-shaker was an editorial written by the Lansing State Journal, under the headline ‘Pay-to-play is best solution for schools.’  The editorial was in response to a bylined story in the newspaper which noted that 21 of 30 high schools in the Lansing area will be charging students a fee to play sports this fall, which represents a 50 percent increase since 2003.

 “Somehow the newspaper’s editorial board views this trend as a good thing.  ‘As long as school districts or booster groups work to assure that low-income families can get assistance to participate, such fees are the best solution to keeping school sports programs available,’ the editorial said.  ‘Indeed, a reasonable case could be made that similar fees are appropriate for other activities such as the high school musical, choir groups or marching band.’ 

 “We immediately reacted by writing a letter to the editor of the State Journal, describing the editorial as ‘hogwash.’  The newspaper pointed out that the typical pay-to-play fee is somewhere around $150, which is certainly not unattainable for many teens or their families.  We also concede that it’s probably a good character-building exercise for young people to earn money to participate in activities they enjoy.  After all, we gained confidence as children from going door to door, selling those stupid candy bars, didn’t we?  Unless we were among that spoiled group that sent the candy to the office with Mom or Dad. 

 “But the ‘pay-to-play’ concept was not hatched as a way to develop student character.  It was designed to preserve high school sports because school officials say they may not be able to afford to field the teams on their own.  To that we say, yes you can, if district money is being spent the way it should be.  Schools exist first and foremost for the students, and extracurricular activities are an integral part of the educational process.  Every spare dime in a school budget should be dedicated to preserving programs that benefit youngsters. 

 “It’s frustrating to hear school officials constantly tell us their districts could save hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars per year, by dumping MESSA insurance or privatizing support services.  If that’s the case, then school boards must find a way to dump MESSA, privatize support services and realize those savings, particularly if the money is necessary to preserve crucial student programs.  Maybe we’re not viewing the situation realistically, but we think it’s far more important for kids to play sports than it is for teachers to receive dozens of ‘therapeutic massages,’ which are actually covered by MESSA.

 “Public education should be student-based, not labor-based.  The students and their needs must be the first priority, and school boards must take the necessary steps to make sure that’s the case.”

We don’t agree with all that we read at educationactiongroup.org, but we concur with the bottom line of these sentiments about student fees.

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