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School fees and the common good

As the parent of a high-school freshman, I was stunned to learn that kids at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School must shell out a $200 fee to participate on an athletic team and a $100 fee for an activity, such as chess club, debate or even the privil

As the parent of a high-school freshman, I was stunned to learn this fall that kids at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School must shell out a $200 fee to participate on an athletic team and a $100 fee for an activity, such as chess club, debate or even the privilege of participating in a play.

These fees don’t include any of the out-of-pocket expenses for equipment, instruments or trips. So if you have a particularly athletic or musical child, it could easily cost you $600 per year for that child in fees alone. Should you have more than one child, do the math — it quickly adds up to a princely sum. Armstrong is not alone with student activity fees. These fees are increasingly commonplace in schools everywhere.

I was one of five kids in my family, growing up in Minneapolis and attending the old Central High. Fees for sports would have most certainly precluded my participation. As a shy kid with little confidence I needed encouragement, not discouragement. I’m thankful that “back in the day” my family didn’t have to pay for my cross-country running, cross-country skiing, or track. Sports and music were highlights for me in high school, college and beyond.

We should encourage activity
Don’t we want as many of our kids as possible to be involved with plays and sports after school, especially those who might not have many resources? With childhood obesity becoming epidemic, rather than putting up roadblocks with fees we should be doing all we can to encourage activity. While I know that there are scholarships for kids on reduced or free lunches, I’m certain many would not feel comfortable asking for such assistance.

User fees are a form of taxes for things that until recently we paid for collectively, understanding that we were supporting the common good. Some churches are now attaching fees for kids attending Sunday school and confirmation programs. And remember drivers education, which used to be included in public school? Not any longer. Now students/parents had better be prepared to shell out $350 or more for private lessons. Our belief in collectively contributing to the common good has been dramatically eroded.

I hope that we will reconsider this trend toward user fees and once again support young people’s activities with our taxes. Let’s do all we can to encourage, not discourage, our kids’ healthy development. It is for our common good.

Dan Johnson, the executive director of Kinship of Greater Minneapolis, writes a blog called Kinship Connections.