Many school districts are finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place: cut programs or charge student-activities fees.
Strapped for cash, a growing number are asking families to pay fees for their children to participate in after-school programs, including sports and bands.
That option should be a last resort to avoid creating a “pay-to-play” system that could leave poor and working-class kids on the sidelines if their parents can’t afford the extra cost.
Across the region, parents are subsidizing extras that students have come to expect, such as French Club and band. Such programs sometimes get the ax in tough economic times, and students lose out — unless parents can chip in.
The fees can add up to hundreds of dollars over the course of a school year, depending on the district and how many children in a family are enrolled.
Some parents are already burdened with high and ever-increasing property taxes to help pay for schools. The additional fees are an added burden.
Most districts, like Haddonfield, waive the fees for needy students. But some students will not participate rather than ask for the waiver.
Extracurricular activities help keep kids engaged in school and give them a well-rounded education. They also help develop social skills and boost self-esteem.
They also give them something to do when school lets out, instead of spending hours in front of a TV or roaming the streets and getting into trouble.
Experts believe those who participate in after-school programs are more likely to stay in school and graduate on time.
It is estimated that 15 million children are left home alone at the end of the regular school day. Many have no place to go because demand for after-school programs exceeds available slots.
To make do with less funding, other districts have scaled back the season with fewer games in some sports, or replaced middle-school athletics with intramural sports. Others have drummed up more community support or secured corporate sponsors. Some do fund-raisers to help supplement the costs.
Before more districts jump on the bandwagon to cut costs by charging extracurricular fees, they should explore other options to make after-school meaningful for all children, and not just those who can afford to pay.