Pay-to-play districts on the rise

One school district system in Ohio has adopted a $900-per-sport fee.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Budget shortfalls have forced an increasing number of school districts to implement pay-to-play fees that can reach hundreds of dollars for students to join sports teams.

Districts argue the fees are necessary to subsidize cash-strapped athletic programs, but parents say they’re taking too big a hit in their wallets and that the policies do little to solve school funding problems.

Some districts provide waivers for students with limited financial means, and the state’s largest public school system, Cleveland, has such a high percentage of poor students that it doesn’t charge fees.

Budgets trimmed

The fees are cropping up in more school districts, though, as local ballot funding issues fail and schools seek to trim budgets.

“We needed to stay in the black,” said Paul Yocum, superintendent of the Cardinal School District in Middlefield, about 35 miles east of Cleveland.

Cardinal’s policy requires athletes to pay up to $400 dollars to participate. Rising health care and utility costs, coupled with a decrease in property tax revenue, forced the district to cut $1.8 million from its budget over two years.

The district’s financial woes are little consolation for Virginia Bell, who will dole out $1,075 this year so her middle school sons can play basketball and run track and cross country. She’s irked the community didn’t pass a tax issue two years ago that would have made the fees unnecessary.

“At least I could have gotten a tax deduction,” she said.

Parents in the Cardinal school system aren’t alone. Mentor, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Brunswick, Medina, South Euclid-Lyndhurst and Independence have pay-to-play policies.

Critics say the fees underscore how insufficient school funding systems are passing the financial burden to students and families.


“Pay-to-play is just throwing your finger in the hole of a dam. It’s not going to solve the larger problem, which is the way education is financed in Ohio,” said Bradley Koinis, 24, a Vermilion High School graduate.

The costs range from minimal — Independence charges $25 per sport with a $50 per student, $100 per family cap — to downright pricey.

The Berkshire school district’s $500 pay-to-play policy pales in comparison to the $900-per-sport fee instituted July 6 by the board of education in Middletown after a levy failed in May.

Sports aren’t the only school programs to fall under the auspices of Middletown’s new policy. Chess club and academic quiz team members will pay $350, while other extracurriculars such as National Honor Society, student government and drama will cost $90.

Yocum acknowledges participation in sports at Cardinal High School has dropped since fees were introduced, but added that families can defray the cost by pitching in at athletic fundraising events.

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