Utah school districts that aren’t transparent about their dues for sports and clubs — or that don’t bring them down to “reasonable levels” — could face new penalties.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Utah State Board of Education has voted to put a discipline system into place after it was criticized two months ago in a scathing state audit for allowing schools to charge students exorbitant fees.
“How heavy and how big that hammer is” is still being worked out, says board chairman Mark Huntsman. “But we need to have something to start with.”
A September report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General looked at middle- and high-school programs in 20 Utah districts. In one school, it cost $2,500 to be a member of the cheerleading squad. In another, students paid $2,795 to participate in show choir.
The audit concluded that by allowing such high fees, the state school board and local districts have created barriers for involvement that end up excluding students with less money. And they’re breaking state law by doing so.
In response, the state board gave preliminary approval to a handful of potential consequences for districts that don’t make adjustments. Among the consequences being considered: requiring districts to repay “improperly charged” dues, withholding their funding, and suspending their right to charge fees at all.
Member Joel Wright suggested cutting extracurricular activities from schools altogether if they’re going to be “taken over by rich parents.”
“Trying to combine the two is causing this problem and degrading education,” he says.
Member Carol Barlow Lear defended sports and clubs and said eliminating them would only further deny low-income students opportunities.
“Some kids will never have the chance to play in an orchestra if it’s not offered at school,” she says.
Member Kathleen Riebe recommended setting statewide caps for each sport to create a level playing field.