To affirm that students, by law, are entitled to a free public education and, therefore, the students and/or their parents, should not bear the financial responsibility for any school or school district sponsored programs, activities or courses – regardless of when such programs, activities or courses are offered. At the same time, schools should, under no circumstances, have to bear the financial burden of finding funds to cover these expenses.

The Issue

Almost all middle level and high schools in the United States offer a number of student activities ranging from athletics, music and drama to honor societies, clubs, service learning and student councils. Some activities also include core subjects like mathematics and English when students attend them for remediation purposes. Although often termed “extracurricular” activities, they provide students with important development opportunities not always afforded during the regular school. It is important to note that NASSP uses co-curricular in place of extra-curricular – sending forth a clear message that all programs, activities and courses, which are sponsored by the school or school district, should be seen as aligned with the mission of the school or the district. In effect, it is NASSP’s position that they not be seen as “extra” in nature. Research has documented the academic and social benefits of student activities. Students who participate in co-curricular activities achieve higher grades, are more motivated, have fewer discipline problems, are less likely to drop out of school, and are more likely to graduate and apply to college. The benefits are particularly significant for at risk students, for whom co-curricular activities have been found to reduce juvenile crime, provide a sense of connectedness to the school, increase self-esteem, and create positive social networks they might otherwise not have. Activities can represent an important way to engage students who are at risk of dropping out.

Funding for these school-sponsored activities has traditionally been generated through a variety of sources, including regular budget allocations, fundraising events, and revenues from vending machines. With shrinking budgets and a trend away from vending machines, schools have been struggling to keep activities available to students and have tended to make up for shortfalls by charging fees in order to maintain these offerings. In 2004, thirty four states had at least some schools charging fees for co-curricular activities and, with a looming recession, this number will continue to grow. This trend has been coined “Pay for Play”. Fees can range widely (from $15 to $1,500 a year) and are sometimes assessed to all students but, more frequently, only to those students who wish to participate in activities.

The Pay-for-Play trend has triggered a legal and philosophical and educational equity debate. The question centers on whether co-curricular activities are part of the free public school system to which everyone is entitled by law. Those in favor of assessing fees argue that activities are not a fundamental part of the education process rising to the level that would require them to be provided at no cost, while those opposed to the Pay for Play system argue that co-curricular activities are as important to the school program as academic classes. The debate remains open and states vary widely in their definition of free education. California, New York, and Oklahoma require that any school-sponsored curricular or co-curricular activity be offered free of charge. Other states consider that such activities are not essential, therefore should not necessarily be publicly funded. In some cases, such as Iowa and New Mexico, those courses required for graduation are excluded by law from any tuition charge or fee schedule, but fees may be charged for elective courses.

NASSP Guiding Principles

  • America’s educational system is rooted in a commitment to a system of free public education and equal access for all students.
  • American public schools educate 90% of all students and offer them opportunities to develop their social cognitive, artistic, athletic, and leadership skills.
  • American public schools seek to educate all their students in all of their programs, activities and courses – regardless of socio economic, ethnic, gender, or racial status, not just a small privileged number.
  • Student activities enhance the educational mission of schools and play an important role in mitigating risk factors for at-risk students.
  • Appropriate and reliable resources should be provided to fulfill such an important function of schools


  • State agencies should make resources available to public schools for the purpose of providing students with an array of school-sponsored activities that complement the curriculum. Schools should, under no circumstances, have to bear the financial burden of finding funds to cover these expenses.
  • Any program, activity or course sponsored by the school or school district – regardless of whenever offered – must be paid for with public funds. In effect, such costs should not be the responsibility of students and their parents.
  • Educators and parents should advocate for a reasonable and appropriate funding stream that would allow schools to offer these important activities.
  • Whenever possible, schools should encourage more students, particularly those who are at risk or disengaged, to participate free of charge in co-curricular activities.


Bauman, P., Crampton, F. (1995, July). When School Districts Become Entrepreneurs: Opportunity or Danger? State Legislative Report, v20 n11.

Greifner, L. (2006, April 12). Indiana Court Strikes Down Mandatory Fees. Education Week

Hamm, R., Crosser, S. (1991, June). School Fees. American School Board Journal, v178 n6 p29-31.

Hardy, L. (1997, August). Pay to Play. American School Board Journal, v184 n8 p25-27.

Hoff, D., Mitchell, S. (2006, November). Pay-to-Play: Fair or Foul? Phi Delta Kappan, v88 n3 p230-234.

Hoff, D., Mitchell, S. (207, February). Should Our Students Pay to Play Extracurricular Activities? Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed for Quick Review, v72 n6 p27-34

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) (2004). The Case for High School Activities. http://www.nfhs.org/web/2004/01/the_case_for_high_school_activities.aspx

Pepe, T., Tufts, A., (1984, November). Pay for Play: Fees for Co-curricular Activities. Legal Memorandum.

State of Washington, Senate Bill 6537 sponsored by Senator McAuliffe. 2008 Regular Session.

Statz, B. (2000, August). Escalating Student Fees: Do they Treat Students and Taxpayers Equitably? School Business Affairs, v66 n8 p17-23


Adopted November 8, 2008