Pay to play has become the new normal at many public high schools strapped for cash. And while the practice is prohibited in such states as California, it has taken hold in others. “Our community seemed to understand the value of strong athletic programs,” says Chris Bigelow, director of student services for the Northshore School District in Bothell, Wash., which instituted participation fees several years ago after state budget cuts. “Every student who desires participation in our sports program has the opportunity” for scholarships who can’t afford it, he adds.
Districts That Pay
At Park City High School in Utah, the district pays for coaches’ stipends and transportation, while the school finances uniforms and equipment, Park City High School athletic director Doug Payne says. Students pay $60 per sport, and $85 for football, with a family cap, and teams can run fundraisers.
Other schools fund programs through corporate sponsorships, such as stadium naming rights. In Pennsylvania, 30 percent of the 117 public school districts that responded to a spring 2012 survey have corporate partnerships, explains Todd Hosterman, senior research associate at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. The sponsorships range from $500 to $2 million, but primarily involve billboard advertising that generates $2,000 to $5,000 a year, Hosterman says.
A similar survey in the spring of 2010 showed 13 percent of districts were charging participation fees, which at the time were nominal, from $5 to $50, he adds. Today, 30 percent are charging fees, and the average is $73 per student per sport.
But in the Rich Township High School District 227, sports are financed the old-fashioned way, through the school budget. Rich East High School Athletic Director Michael Laneve uses sports and activities concessions and an after-school canteen to support more than 99 percent of the athletic department’s expenses not covered by the budget. Coaches can hold an occasional fundraiser if there is a significant need that cannot be supported through the department.
One fundraising tool is PlanetHS, which works with schools and local businesses to be paid sponsors. This free program provides tools for coordinating classes, games and field trips; community service tracking; sports schedules; surveys; voting for class officers or team captains; even live video streaming of games or events.
In California, which has a “free schools” clause in the state constitution, fundraising for sports is permitted so long as contributions are voluntary, explains Brooks Allen, director of education advocacy, ACLU of Southern California. “If participation in a school sport is conditioned upon making a contribution, that’s not allowed,” he says.