Are students being priced out of extracurricular activities? New state law requires big changes in school fees

New legislature changed what is considered a waivable school fee, and requiring limits to be put on each sport. Local school districts work to implement changes. (Image: Megan Nielsen)

LOGAN – The state of Utah passed new legislation in March regarding school fees and the school districts here in Cache Valley are working hard to implement them and notify parents of all the changes.

H.B. 250: School Fee Revisions was passed, “to ensure that fees in the public school system do not create a barrier to full participation for any student, regardless of their financial circumstances,” according to the Utah Board of Education’s summary of the legislation. The revisions include creating standards and requirements for fee policies, schedules, conditions for charging, and availability for fee waivers.

Logan City School District Superintendent Frank Schofield said there were worries leading up to this legislation change that will hopefully be fixed. “People were concerned that the cost of fee-based activities is preventing students from being able to participate. That certain activities, that we consider to be a part of the comprehensive high school experience, are getting so expensive that students are getting priced out.”

The definition of a fee was also updated and clarified in H.B. 250. A fee now means “something of monetary value requested or required by a Local Education Agency as a condition to a student’s participation in an activity, class, or program provided, sponsored, or supported by a school.”

Schofield gave the following example when explaining what now constitutes a fee:

“An athletic team goes down to Salt Lake and is coming back to Cache Valley. They stop for dinner and tell everybody to go get some dinner and meet back at the bus in 20 minutes. Well, if you have a student who comes from a background of poverty, did their parents give them money for dinner? And if they didn’t, and if that dinner is something the team is all doing, it is then a school-sponsored activity. And if it’s a school-sponsored activity, students should not be placed in a position where those who don’t have money aren’t able to participate.”

Another example is athletic camp during the summer. It’s technically considered optional, but there is a fee charged for the activity. You can say an athlete isn’t “required” to attend, but everyone knows who does and doesn’t attend camp, so the definition of a required fee is changed. “It’s no longer, ‘is the activity required?’ It’s, ‘is there a fee required in order to participate in that activity?’ If it is, it’s waivable,” Schofield explained.

“This is a very different way of looking at fees,” Schofield said. “Direction is coming down from a state level and all districts are looking at how to manage it.”

Cache County School District Superintendent Steven Norton said the state has given schools a few years to get their systems in compliance with the new law.

“We started earlier in the spring with our school board. We updated our fee policy as a district. We’ve added a few things this year that we could have waited another year for but didn’t.”

Part of the new law includes creating a maximum fee set for each activity, and a break down of what that fee is being used for. Norton said he gathered information and input from his athletic directors and principals around the district and came up with realistic maximum fee limits.

For example, the maximum fee for football in the Cache County School District is $800. It can be under that limit, but it can’t be over. The coach also must list out specifically what that $800 is paying for. It can’t just be a lump sum of $800.

“We’re going through that process right now,” Norton said. “Everything will be online, and parents will be able to go to their child’s school and pull up the fee information and see specifically what it’s paying for.”

Cache County School District’s maximum limits range from $200 for Music and Theater to $1,400 for Drill. According to their fee document, these “Per sport/activity maximums include participation fee, transportation fee, uniform fee, participant packs, off-campus and on-campus clinics, IHC sports conditioning, and other associated travel costs. These fees may be less than listed.”

Logan City School District will be working on their fee limits this winter, said Schofield.

“We will be having discussions with booster clubs, community councils, and board members of what is considered an appropriate fee limit, and how high do we set it? Drill Team and Cheerleading are some of the main things that always come up. Is it too expensive? Are we preventing students from participating because of it? If we lower the fee, what does this do to the students and their ability? There will be a lot of conversations about this over the course of the next school year,” he continued.

Schofield said he wants parents and community members to understand these changes reflect state law and aren’t really up for discussion or debate.

“We want to notify people that we are enacting policies to make sure we’re complying with state law. We don’t want that to be misinterpreted as ‘come tell us what you think about the policy,’ because we’re locking in here. It’s the law,” he said.

Norton said he participated in a live school board meeting with the Utah State Board of Education last week and fees is what they talked about for over an hour. “They’re still changing and tweaking things and it’s a moving target for them. So, we will comply as things change and move with it.”

See Cache County School District’s fee chart HERE

Logan City School District’s fees are still being determined.

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