Out of Pocket School Costs: A Look at ‘Pay to Participate' Activities

The new school year means getting back in that routine of waking up early, doing homework, and for parents, shelling out money for supplies and after-school activities.

NBC Connecticut Investigates looked into just how much do these extra costs add up and whether they’re on the rise.

Parents in Shelton said they were blindsided by a just announced $300 participation fee just before Shelton High School’s football season opener.

Porter McKinnon, who is the president of the team’s booster club and has a son playing, says a handful of parents who made contributions to the booster club have asked for refunds to help them cover this new, unanticipated cost.

“We potentially have four or five players that might not be able to pay at all,” McKinnon said.

These new fees on multiple Shelton high school and middle school sports teams, and other after-school activities are a result of budget problems, says Shelton Parent Teacher Student Organization President Carla Sullivan.

Speaking as a parent of a Shelton High School student, Sullivan says, “I believe that the public schools are here to educate all students, equally, to provide equal access not only to opportunities inside the classroom, but opportunities outside the classroom.”

Shelton Public Schools released a statement, saying in part, “…after reducing our workforce while trying to maintain a qualified, professional staff, we now must ask families to help support important programs in athletics and arts.”

See the full statement below.

The Connecticut Association of Athletic Directors has surveyed Connecticut public schools about pay to participate programs, the last time in 2016.

The results show Shelton is not alone, with roughly a quarter of the public schools in Connecticut saying they have pay to participate sports programs.

GET MORE: 2012 Office of Legislative Research report on Pay to Play sports in Connecticut

Another survey, the Huntington Backpack Index, a joint effort between West Virginia based Huntington Bancshares and Communities in Schools, an organization helping at-risk students, tracks not only extracurricular costs, but also out of pocket costs for classroom supplies.

The index indicates since last year, the cost of extracurricular activities remained steady, and classroom supplies dipped a little in price leading to the following average per-student, out of pocket, school year expenses:

  • $637 for an elementary school student, a drop of 4 percent
  • $941 for someone in middle school, a 6 percent decrease
  • $1355 for the typical high schooler, down about 9 percent

All were on the decline, but it’s still a steep price tag for many.

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We reached out to multiple school districts to see what their policies are. Here are the ones that responded as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.

LEBANON SCHOOL DISTRICT: “Our students/parents pay the following fees or bear these expenses:

1. Co-op football pay $165.00. Parents provide transportation to Coventry High School where practices and home games are played.

2. Co-op boys ice hockey pay $2000.00. Parents provide transportation to practices and home games at ice rink.

3. Co-op girls swimming has no fee, but parents provide transportation to Windham High School for practices and home meets.

• MERIDEN PUBLIC SCHOOLS: “No sports participation fees in Meriden. No charge for AP, school day SATs, or PSATs …. No parking or common fees… Prom yes- and extra activities- field trips- yes”

SHERMAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS(Pre-K-8): No participation fees or school supply costs

THOMASTON PUBLIC SCHOOLS: “The fee for participation in athletics is $50 per athletic season. The fee for Chromebook home-use by students in Grades 7-12 is $50 per year. Please know that if a student exhibits a hardship, the fee is reduced or waived.”

WOLCOTT PUBLIC SCHOOLS: “We do not have mandatory supplies fees or “pay to play” in Wolcott.”

WOODBRIDGE SCHOOL DISTRICT (K-6): “Woodbridge School District is a one facility elementary district grades PK-6 and does not charge parents for any classroom supplies nor school fee costs”

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