Although a bill that would allow school districtsthe authority to charge students a fee to participate in activities like band or sports did not receive a lot of support, it might be amended to apply only to Middletown.
The legislation (S 0112) was introduced by Sen. Louis DiPalma (Newport, Middletown, Tiverton, Little Compton) after the Middletown School Committee had talks with lawmakers about how to find ways to close budget shortfalls.
Although not common, community specific legislation has been enacted in Rhode Island. For example, in 2009, the Senate passed a bill that allowed the Woonsocket School Department to enforce a uniform policy.
DiPalma said the bill would not require districts to adopt a pay-to-participate system, but the common concern was that it was a “slippery slope.” Opponents argued extracurricular activities should be part of the budget.
“I concur it should be part of budget, but it's not.” DiPalma argued. "They are cutting, cutting, cutting.” He said if schools are forced to make a decision between core subjects like math over activities such as band, districts will choose math.
The pay-to-participate is not a new concept. When budgets began to shrink in the 1970s, pay-to-participate fees were introduced into some school systems, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. By 2004, 34 states reported that at least some school districts were charging students to play sports, according to a USA Today survey. Neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut have a pay-to-participate option available to school districts, although not all schools use the system.
In Massachusetts, a pay-to-participate fees range from $25 per sport to $1,450 for ice hockey, according to a LexisNexis report. Families that are unable to afford the fee would be able to apply for an exception, said DiPalma.
What do you think? Should the Middletown School District be granted the authority to charge students to participate in extracurricular activities?