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Pay-to-Play Fees Expanding Rapidly Among Pa. Public Schools

Nearly 4 in 10 Pennsylvania public schools now charge students to participate in sports, nearly a threefold increase compared to three years ago, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

The association's Education Research and Policy Center partnered with the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association to conduct the first-ever full statewide assessment of public schools' pay-to-play fees. The two groups attempted to gather feedback from 500 of the state's public school districts, with a response rate of 37 percent.

In 2010, just 13 percent of the state's athletic directors said that their districts charged students fees to participate in athletics, ranging anywhere from $5 to $50 per student, per activity. This year, 38 percent of schools told the PSBA they were charging fees ranging from anywhere between $10 and $200 per student, per sport. The average per-sport participation fee for each student came out to $80.

"The rising cost to athletes and their families is concerning," said Todd Hosterman, the author of the study and a senior research associated with the PSBA, in a statement. "Looking at the maximum reported $200 per student, per activity, fee would require a three-sport athlete to pay $600 a year."

Just over half of districts (52 percent) charge students a one-time-per-year fee for an individual student's participation in sports. Thirty-nine percent charge students a separate fee for each sport, and the remaining nine percent have "other" arrangements, such as charging an annual fee covering all students' participation in all sports from each family.

Eleven percent of districts have been forced to cut one or more sports due to financial reasons, the survey found. Of those districts, basketball (32 percent), soccer (21 percent), golf (16 percent), wrestling (11 percent), volleyball (11 percent), and cross country (11 percent) were the most common sports dropped, respectively.

Roughly 1 in 5 districts also charge participation fees for other extracurricular activities beyond sports, such as band and chorus, the survey found.

Twenty-five percent of the districts that responded are relying upon partnerships with corporate sponsor to generate extra revenue. Of those partnerships, 27 percent exist on an ongoing basis, while the remaining 73 percent were reported to be one-time sponsored events.

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