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More districts should drop pay-to-play

The Phoenix-Talent School District is right to do away with pay-to-play participation fees for extracurricular activities. Other Southern Oregon districts should do the same.

The Phoenix-Talent School Board’s unanimous decision Aug. 8 to eliminate the fees will cost the district some money — it collected $35,000 last year — but that’s a small price to pay for the benefit it brings to struggling families. District Athletic Director Dave Ehrhardt said it’s an amount the district can afford.

Schools across the country have turned to participation fees to compensate for shrinking budgets. Many districts, Phoenix-Talent included, provided sliding scales for families who couldn’t afford the full fee. The Medford district has money in scholarship funds to help low-income students who can’t afford the fees.

That’s fine, but it still represents a stigma that may prevent parents from encouraging their children to pursue sports, band or orchestra. A national poll found lower-income families were less likely to have a teen playing sports than more affluent families.

And what’s the biggest problem facing public education in Oregon? Low graduation rates. What are some of the best ways to keep students showing up for school and working toward graduation?

Sports and music programs.

Study after study shows students enrolled in music programs do better in math, science and English classes. Research also shows that students who participated in athletics earn higher grades, graduate at a higher rate and are less likely to drop out.

At the same time, children from low-income families tend to have lower attendance rates and are less likely to graduate. So it only makes sense to do everything possible to offer every child, regardless of socioeconomic background, the opportunity to participate in activities that are likely to keep them coming to school.

That means removing barriers that treat students differently based on family income. School districts will still face tight budgets, but the relatively small amount it takes to eliminate pay-to-play fees is money well spent.