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Pay to Play? State Laws Related to High School Sports Participation Fees

Eyler, Amy A. PhD; Piekarz-Porter, Elizabeth JD; Serrano, Natalicio H. MPH

Journal of Public Health Management and Practice: May/June 2019 - Volume 25 - Issue 3 - p E27–E35
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0000000000000813
Research Reports: Research Full Report

Context: Participation in high school sports can impact the physical and mental health of students and influence other positive social and economic outcomes. To maintain sports programs amidst school budget deficits, many districts are implementing sports participation fee policies. Although locally implemented, these district policies can be guided by state law.

Objective: The main objective of this study was to assess state laws and regulations related to high school sports participation fees.

Design: Codified statutes and administrative regulations were compiled for all 50 states and the District of Columbia using subscription-based services from LexisNexis and WestlawNext. A content assessment tool was developed to identify key components of school sports participation fee laws and used for summarization. Key components identified included legislation summarization, years in effect, whether it allows fees, whether there is any fee waiver, qualifications needed for fee waiver, whether there is a tax credit, and whether there is disclosure of implementation. State information was aggregated and doubled-coded to ensure reliability.

Results: As of December 31, 2016, 18 states had laws governing sports participation fees; 17 of these states' laws allowed for such fees, whereas 1 state prohibited them. Most laws give authority to local school boards to set and collect fees. The laws in 9 states have provisions for a waiver program for students who cannot pay the fees, although they do not all mandate the existence of these waivers. Other content within laws included tax credits and disclosure.

Conclusion: This analysis shows that states with laws related to school sports participation fees varied in scope and content. Little is known about the implementation or impact of these laws at the local level and the effect of fees on different student population groups. This warrants future investigation.

Brown School (Dr Eyler and Mr Serrano) and Prevention Research Center in St Louis, Washington University in St Louis, St Louis, Missouri (Dr Eyler and Mr Serrano); and Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (Ms Piekarz-Porter).

Correspondence: Natalicio H. Serrano, MPH, Brown School and Prevention Research Center in St Louis, Washington University in St Louis, Campus Box 1196, One Brookings Dr, St Louis, MO 63130 (

This study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Policies for Action Children's Healthy Weight Hub, located at the University of Illinois at Chicago Institute for Health Research and Policy and the Washington University in St Louis Brown School Prevention Center, grant no. 73758.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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