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Ohio Legislators Weighing Whether to Ban Schools' Pay-to-Play Fees

Should high school student-athletes be forced to pay fees just to participate in sports? Ohio lawmakers are weighing that very question.

State Sen. Cliff Hite is hosting public forums across the state this month to gather public input about pay-to-play athletic participation fees. According to an Ohio High School Athletic Association survey of 471 schools from June 2014, nearly half—221, to be exact—charge students some type of pay-to-play fees. That represents a marked increase from a decade prior, when only 32.5 percent of schools surveyed charged a participation fee. According to the state high school association's 2014 survey, some districts had average fees as high as $153.

"Co-curricular activities are important to the educational and social development of our young people and often give them a pathway to thrive and succeed at school," Hite said in a statement. "Requiring outrageous fees to participate limits students who might not be afforded those opportunities otherwise."

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Secretary of State Jon Husted convinced Hite earlier this year to take up the issue. Per the paper, "Husted has talked to the OHSAA and legislative leaders about finding bipartisan sponsors for a bill that, he hopes, would one day make Ohio one of the first states in the country to ban pay-to-play fees."

"We wouldn't think of charging for biology class and we know it's important," Husted told the Springfield News-Sun in September. "Why would we charge for sports when we know that's important?"

Implementing or increasing such fees can have a chilling effect on the number of students able to participate in athletics. According to the Dispatch, Ohio's New Albany district experienced a 16 percent drop in athletics participation after raising high school pay-to-play fees from $50 to $625 and middle school fees to $425, even with 100 student-athletes receiving financial assistance. At Springfield High School, participation in athletics rose from roughly 950 students to around 1,200 once pay-to-play fees were eliminated, per the News-Sun.

Ohio isn't the only state grappling with this issue. As of 2009, 33 states had at least one school that charged participation fees for school sports, according to a survey from the National Federation of State High School Associations. In November 2013, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association found nearly four in 10 schools throughout the state were charging students to participate in sports, marking nearly a threefold increase from a few years prior.

California, meanwhile, enacted a law back in 2012 that aimed to identify and prevent schools from charging mandatory student fees, including pay-to-play fees. The state had long prohibited schools from charging fees, but a 2010 investigation from the San Diego Union-Tribune found a number of schools openly posting information about extra fees for students on their website. The American Civil Liberties Union responded by filing a class-action lawsuit against the state.

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