Students can get well rounded education only if voters protest and approve school levies

Don Heinzman
ECM Editorial Writer

Parents are paying more and higher fees for their students who want to play athletics, compete in debate, play in the band and perform in a school play. This raises the question: Do today’s graduates have the quality education they deserve?

To the credit of the high school administrators, exceptions are made for some students who can’t afford the fees, and it appears that so far the fees have slightly affected participation.

The day may be coming, however, when public schools can only afford to offer a basic, no-extras education to students.

Across the nation parents are paying fees not only for co-curricular activities but for supplies, algebra workbooks and even registration fees.

Some educators say it isn’t fair for taxpayers to pay for the extras some school districts offer.

School districts are facing cuts in their operating budgets, because of declining enrollment, increasing costs and no increases in state for the last four years, except for funding special education.

In Minnesota, the state legislature by law must fund an adequate education for K-12 students. That word adequate, however, is subject to interpretation. Some will argue that offering an array of arts courses or advanced science classes to only a few takers is no longer sustainable.

As school districts look for funds, they are charging higher fees for their kids to play high school sports, to be in student government, to be in the class play and to participate in debate.

This is a serious trend, because students with parents of modest means cannot afford the fees. The public school system, which guarantees equal opportunities for all students, is becoming elitist.

Parents are saying they would rather pay for special courses and activities than not have the offerings at all. That’s easy for parents with the money to say.

There are exceptions to the fees for those students on free and reduced lunches. Booster clubs in some districts are supplementing athletic budgets.

A study conducted by the Minnesota State High School League shows increases in fees are slightly reducing the number of students participating in the league’s sports and activities.

Students who could profit the most from having special courses or being on teams are the most threatened.

Raising fees and cutting extracurricular activities is coming at a time when the research says the best predictor of future success for students is their involvement in extracurricular activities.

One example of raising fees is Lakeville where the school board has increased the fees to help make up a projected two-year budget deficit of $15.2 million.

Next year, it will cost a Lakeville High School student $600 to play hockey,  $215 to participate in debate, $135 to be in the fall play and $250 to be in the chess club.

The school board in Lakeville chose the route of raising the fees after parents came up with solutions to fund activities the board had planned to cut.

Increasing fees is understandable for a board that also has approved cutting 100 full-time equivalent staffing positions in Lakeville schools.

Equal opportunities for all students to get a well-rounded education can only come when parents protest to their school boards as was the case in Lakeville, and when voters approve new tax levies.

Don Heinzman, former editor of the Star News in Elk River, is an editorial writer for ECM Publishers. His blog is posted on HometownSource.com.

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