Education Cuts: What about sports? Are we eroding civic responsiblity?


Soccer playing girl Should student athletes pay to play?

One way to save money is to restructure or cut athletic programs. Some school districts are eliminating sports. Others are looking at pay to play.

Pay to play is a part of the Ann Arbor Public Schools’ plan to cut its budget. This was announced at the first of four public hearings about the budget, held last Thursday at a nearby high school. I attended the first one.

With pay to play, a high school athlete would pay $150 per year to play sports. Middle school athletes would pay $50.

Additional funds would be saved by cutting weekend transportation to games and consolidating some sports programs—say, by combining small teams from the high schools into one big team. (Read more about the proposed cuts to the athletic program at


These cuts and changes would reduce the school district’s $3.6 million athletic budget by $500,000.

Pay to play seems reasonable, perhaps unavoidable, and certainly better than eliminating sports altogether. But pay to play is a type of regressive taxation—it hurts the poor more than the rich (or middle class). Some low-income students won’t be able to play if they have to pay.

In fact, pay to play—in sports, music, theater, chemistry labs, or what have you—attacks the core premise of public education. The premise is that education is a civic responsibility: Education is available to all, regardless of income, and the community pays for it. The community that pays includes families with students in public school, empty nesters whose children went to public school, families who send their kids to private schools, and people who never had kids at all but choose to live in the community.

Pay to play isn’t the end of community. But it loosens the bonds among fellow citizens by eroding civic responsibility—one pay to play athlete at a time.

Are sports on the chopping block in your community?
    Or, are sports the sacred cow?

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