Pay to Play? State Laws Related to High School Sports Participation Fees

Principal Investigator

Amy Eyler - The Brown School, Washington University in St. Louis

Resources

Overview

Amy Eyler and Natalicio Serrano of Washington University in St. Louis and Elizabeth Piekarz-Porter of University of Illinois at Chicago published an article in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice on state legislation related to high school sports participation fees. Budget cuts have forced many school districts to prioritize school programs, and extracurricular activities such as sports are often viewed as less essential than academics. Yet rather than reducing or eliminating sports programs altogether, some districts are electing to transfer some of the costs of sports participation to student athletes and their families. Some states provide guidance on these fees through legislation.

Eyler and colleagues collected codified statutes and administrative regulations for all 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine the content of these policies. Of particular interest was the inclusion of fee waivers for low-income students.

Findings

  • As of December 2016, 18 states had laws governing sports participation fees; 17 of these allowed for fees and one state (California) prohibited fees. Most of the laws that allow fees give the authority of local school boards to set the amounts and determine the collection process.
  • The laws in nine states have provisions for a waiver program for students who cannot pay fees, although all laws are not mandates for these provisions. Most outline eligibility for waivers as qualification for Free and Reduced Price Lunch, but other state laws include a broader definition of need. 
  • Other state laws outline the development and communication of fee policies or allow tax credits for money spent on school sports fees.

Implications for Policy and Practice

There are many physical, mental, and social benefits of being a high school athlete, but rising costs may impact the extent to which all students can play sports. Although 18 states have laws related to school sports participation fees, the remaining states do not. This opens the door to wide variation of fees and processes, and may contribute to inequities in sports participation for low-income students already at higher-risk for poorer health outcomes. Further research is needed to determine how the laws translate to local policies and subsequent sports participation. 

Published
in
Journal of Public Health Management and Practice