Friday, 19 August 2016 10:03

Pay-to-Play in High School Sports: Bad Idea!

Paying for the privilege to participate in high school sports is still a relatively new thing for me. ‘Participation fees’ is actually a better description since no one is really able to guarantee playing time. I never had to pay to participate in high school sports back in the late 50s and early 60s, while growing up in New York. Other than a few dollars to buy football cleats, socks, basketball shoes etc., New York State is where property taxes and other levy’s funded all academics and extra curricular activities. Up until the 1980’s most states were also this way with regard to funding athletics. Then of course funding challenges in public education, Title IX equity mandates, recessions and expenses of growing athletic programs began to chip away at available funding and the practice of charging pay-to-play fees became more and more common to keep public school athletic programs afloat. New York State does not permit pay-to-play, even though some local school districts experimented with the idea. Here are some pros and cons. Pros: there is no advantage here, so there are no pros. So, what’s wrong with the concept? Increasing the cost of playing sports by implementing pay-to-play, without a doubt, keeps some low-income students from participating, at a time in their lives when they should be trying new things, and at a time in our country when kids are less active than ever. Officials are finding it hard to resist using fees beyond athletics, risking the creation of an a la carte-style education where only students with means can take full advantage of what is offered through public schools. Not to mention that the concept might have the potential to widen the gap between students based on their financial resources. Both must be avoided. The last 40 years of public education have been defined by the demand for more: more classes, more clubs, more services and more sports, especially with the addition of Title IX. For much of that time, those demands have been accompanied by more money. Since the 2008 economic crash, however, pressure on state budgets and property taxpayers has produced sharp cuts in the money sent to schools. In New York State, as a result of underfunding, students are being shortchanged as schools have inadequate supplies, overcrowded classrooms, insufficient numbers of guidance counselors and social workers, understaffed and under resourced libraries, underfunded arts and sports programs, lack of sufficient tutoring and other supports for struggling students and reduced curriculum offerings and after school options. These classroom cuts have the greatest negative impact on students in high needs schools with large concentrations of students in poverty, students with disabilities and English language learners. So school districts across the state are looking for other means to fund certain “extracurricular” programs, like the sports programs, in order to sustain some quality in academics. Andrew Cuomo’s two percent tax cap had short-changed many school districts across New York State, as a result Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed to live up to his constitutional obligations to New York State’s school children. Governor Cuomo has consistently failed in his obligation to provide the resources necessary for all New York State students to receive the “sound basic education” that is guaranteed by New York State’s constitution. Cuomo is delinquent in the amount of $5.9 billion that is owed to the New York State schools as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE). Governor Cuomo’s delinquency perpetuates inequality with the funding gap between wealthy and poor districts being at $8,733 per pupil. So, the athletic programs have become part of this tendency of negligence, for most of New York’s public schools. This information comes from The Public Policy and Education Fund, in an article about the Governor’s failure to keep public schools on track. As a matter of fact Governor Cuomo has butted heads with the NYSUT (teachers’ union) since the day he was voted in as New York State’s leader. The above scenario, of gubernatorial cuts and delinquency funding strategies, has become an issue for at least 35 states across the country. There has been discussion, as well as the implementation of pay-to-play in many states because of the concern of budgetary slashing. Many ideas have evolved to remedy and solve ways for the funding of sports programs. So far, there hasn’t been an ideal model that actually works. In general, it has been, for the majority of the states, to fund public education through property taxation. To use a sports related analogy, school districts, teachers’ salaries, the extracurricular programs, especially athletics have become a political football. I see it in a very different way. I feel, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo, like some other governors across the states, have this thing about teacher’s unions, let me use the prehistoric label called “union busters.” The concept has been reincarnated from the early 1900s - it might be the underlying force behind cuts to education, and one result being cuts in athletics. But, the subject of the pay-to-play scenario has unfortunately become a bad idea, turning into programs for elitists, for those who can afford to pay to participate. So, not all students would have the opportunity to become involved with athletics, because of the costs. Some states have districts that are charging up to $1,200 for the school year athletics, some states have school districts charging $250 to $600 dollars per sport. So the student who comes from a single parent family and whose mom (usually) who makes barley a sustainable income for her family, might not be able to pay for her child, or children to play school related sports. As a coach, I can see so many related problems. If a child is paying $1,200 to participate on the football team, the coach is pressured to use that kid more than he has planned maybe because the kid just might not be strong enough to physically compete. The biggest problem with pay-to-play might even come from the parents: “I just paid all of this money and my kid isn’t getting the time “I” think he deserves!” Pay-to-play is a dangerous concept, and I see no winners in this game, it changes the scholastic environment from a chance for all versus only a game for the privileged. Quite frankly, it’s the “haves overshadowing the have-nots.” Thoroughly a true opposite of what public education represents.

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