Record editorial: State crackdown on unwieldy school fees is welcome
January 2, 2019
A student's financial situation shouldn't prevent them from participating in school programs or extracurricular activities.
That's common sense to the majority of Utahns who value the notion that all students deserve equal treatment in the public school system. But a pair of state audits released last year revealed a sizeable gap between that standard and reality at many high schools throughout the state.
According to the audits, broad lack of compliance with state policies and fee waiver requirements has created an unwieldy system of fees that "jeopardizes equal opportunity for all students." In response, the Utah State Board of Education is exploring a rule that would level the playing field by forcing districts to cap fees for school-sponsored programs. Additionally, it would create transparency by requiring local school boards to post public notices about fee schedules and hold public hearings before approving them.
Those steps would be welcomed in Park City, where the ideal of equal access is heralded. In fact, the Park City School District is already ahead of the curve on the issue after school officials in the spring eliminated student academic fees, such as those for books and equipment for Advanced Placement courses, at secondary schools at a cost of roughly $700,000 annually.
But the proposed state rule also takes into account fees for athletics and other extracurricular activities, which the Park City Board of Education didn't address. While the district already has a cap on the dollar amount individual programs can charge, officials would also have to establish limits on how much single students would be required to pony up during a school year. That could ease the burden on students who participate in several extracurricular activities.
The district could sidestep the issue entirely by getting rid of extracurricular fees, like it did with the academic ones. Such a move would come at a cost to taxpayers, but the benefits may be worth it and demand a serious look. Students who can't afford to play a sport or join an after-school club — a significant percentage of the district's student population — would never again have doubts about participating and would no longer have to request fee waivers.
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Regardless of whether Park City school officials ultimately decide to take that step, residents should urge the Utah State Board of Education to press forward with the proposed fee rule and be diligent in enforcing it.
Even in a district that does not seem to have the kind of systemic equity problems described in the statewide audits, providing further framework for ensuring all students have access to programs and adding a layer of transparency to the process would be important progress.
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