Audit: Utah schools charging steep fees for sports, clubs

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah schools are charging students excessive and unreasonable fees to participate in sports and extracurricular clubs, according to a new state audit.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported that in many cases Utah schools also were ignoring fee waivers for low-income students, according to a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General released Tuesday.

The report looked at middle and high school programs in 20 districts across the state, including seven charters.

It cost $2,500 to be a member of the cheerleading squad at one school and $2,795 to participate in show choir at another, according to the audit.

The state audit concluded the high fees for sports and clubs are breaking state law.

When the fees get so high, it becomes so expensive that kids cannot participate,” said Brian Dean, audit manager. “It’s almost a pay-to-play system.”

Utah’s Constitution is unique in that, unlike most other states, it explicitly permits secondary schools to charge fees for activities. But a 1994 injunction from the state’s 3rd District Court found those fees had become exorbitant and must change to be “reasonable” in price so as not to bar students who qualify for fee waivers, financial assistance or simply can’t afford to join.

At that time, it decided that $1,000 was excessive; today, adjusted for inflation, that would be about $1,795.

“We recognize that this is a problem,” said Alisa Ellis, chair of the board of education’s audit committee, during a report on the state’s findings Tuesday at the Capitol.

Ellis said the board independently completed its own internal audit on school fees in April that came to many of the same conclusions as the state’s review.

The state school board intends to conduct annual trainings with Utah’s school districts about the fees. It will also set a maximum — which was required by the court’s ruling but never enacted — for how much a family will be asked to pay in dues.

“We don’t want to fall back into a similar pattern,” said Scott Jones, deputy superintendent of operations for the Utah State Office of Education.

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