Eye on Education

Ohio’s Public Education is Far From Free

Public education isn’t exactly free these days. State budget cuts and failed local levies have left Ohio’s schools desperate to trim costs and still maintain services. That leaves parents paying for what schools can no longer afford.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact: Ohio

Field Local Board President Brian Olson says they've been cutting back on costs for 20 years now.

Half an hour east of Akron you’ll find the small, rural and property poor Field Local School District. Local voters kept rejecting property tax levies, so earlier this month the district tried for an income tax. But, “it failed miserably, 25 for 75 against,” says Field Local Board of Education President Brian Olson.

The school district has not raised new local tax revenue for two decades. In that time, class sizes have grown, subjects were eliminated, busing has been cut back, administrative duties were consolidated, and teachers are now picking up 20 percent of their health insurance costs.

“It’s just like when you’re too hot in the sun, you can only take so many layers off and then there’s nothing left and really that’s what it boiled down to was where do we have to go?” Olson asks.

I visited Field Local schools not long ago. The varsity and J.V. football teams were busy tossing their pigskins, while the cheerleaders practiced their jumps and the band took orders on how to march properly. All these extracurricular activities used to cost students $35. Since the income tax failed, high school sports and other extracurriculars cost $300, and $100 per activity for grade school students.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact: Ohio

The JV football team at Field Local Schools is practicing hard, but they've already lost a few team members because of recently increased pay-to-play costs.

Families are capped at $2,000, but for some, paying for even one sport is too much. So far, 35 high schoolers have dropped out of fall sports.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association estimates that nearly half of Ohio schools had some form of pay-to-play last year with an average cost of $140. This year, those numbers are expected to climb higher, as Ohio voters are more than twice as likely to say ‘no’ than ‘yes’ to new local taxes.

Sports aren’t the only extracurriculars costing more. Extra fees these days are being added to everything from drama club to marching band.

Stanford University Professor Eric Hanushek says there may be a benefit in all this, as schools refocus on academics instead of Friday night’s football game. He says it is also sparking debate about the goal of public education.

“The real issue that’s come to light now is, ‘Who should pay for this?’ Is that a public responsibility or should parents contribute more.” Hanushek says. “And if the public doesn’t pay for these in the future, we don’t know quite what the impact is going to be.”

But pay-to-play is not the answer for every public school. Last year, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District was facing a $74 million deficit over two years, with a half a million in cuts to extracurricular activities. The district opted to reduce salaries and cut benefits for administrators. More than 600 employees, including hundreds of teachers, were let go in the spring. Those budget cuts keeps sports free for students like Edward Golson, a junior at James Ford Rhodes High School.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact: Ohio

A junior, Edward Golson says he would have to quit playing sports if Cleveland schools started using pay-to-play.

“Football is my everything. Dedication, hard work, commitment, stay focused and ready, and just ready to play,” he says. Golson also plays basketball, but his family would not be able to afford any extra fees for the sports. He would, he says, try to make ends meet with the help of an extra job.

Rhodes’ Athletic Director Cheri Dzuro says that’s true for most Cleveland students. She says many of her student athletes get free lunches and free transportation “because there’s no money at home. So if we went to pay-to-play that would be the demise of sports in Cleveland.”

In fact, Roseann Canfora with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District says 100 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. In a district like that, there are other financial strains that come with education.

The City of Cleveland partnered with the Cleveland school district recently to put on a pack-to-school fair. That’s where Alexis Whitmore got a free package of school supplies to help cut down her back-to-school shopping costs. She has three children in Cleveland schools, and she they each get a long list of things they need. But her biggest worry, she says, is the school uniform.

Ida Lieszkovszky / StateImpact: Ohio

Cleveland parent Alexis Whitmore gets help with her back-to-school shopping at a fair put on by the city of Cleveland and Cleveland schools.

“Some of it is so expensive,” Whitmore says. “You know what they need and you know what you want to get them, but sometimes that’s not what your paycheck says at the end of the week.”

A near record number of Ohio schools are expected to have tax issues  on the November ballot. Field Local will be among them – going back to a more traditional property tax levy than the income tax they tried earlier this month. But, if voters say ‘no’ again, the district says it could mean the end of school sports entirely.


  • runnergirl1903

    Thanks for the article. I feel that we are at the beginning of some scary times. Schools need the extra-curricular activities- children can grow so much because of sports, music, and clubs. I would not be who I am today without participating in sports. As a teacher and coach, I saw several students whose sports kept them motivated academically, and I saw these graduate from high school AND college. They would have been lost without the passion they found. These activites are vital to students’ lives: they get excited about their passions, not their tests.

  • Fred

    “The real issue that’s come to light now is, ‘Who should pay for this?’ Is that a public responsibility or should parents contribute more.”

    Bingo. You can argue all you want about the importance of ECs. But the fact is as a childfree person, I’m irritated enough having to pay for your kids’ education. I don’t see why I should have to pay for them to play sports. The expense of raising children should be all on the parents.

    • yellow72

      Really? Who paid for your education? Were you in a private school? Did your parents pay for everything you wanted and needed? Well, LUCKY you! The reality of it is that
      that not every parent has the opportunity to provide that for their children. I grew up on Welfare and food stamps. I was inspired by my situation to never be reliant on anyone ever again. I put myself through college, have already paid off my school loans and my husbands with never a late payment. Can you say the same, or did your mommy and daddy pay for your college? My husband and I are both employed. If you have been in the public school system any time since 1989, when George Bush senior, took away federal funding of schools, then I have been paying taxes for YOU to go to school. Quite frankly, your selfish attitude, makes me wish your parents chose to be childfree also! Instead, they raised a selfish child with no concern for the world around them!

      • Anonymous

        I din’t write the first comment, but I will respond to yours.

        “The reality of it is that that not every parent has the opportunity to provide that for their children.”

        Then they shouldn’t have the children in the first place. We have a world population of over 7 billion people, when the planet by any reasonable estimation is only capable of sustaining 2 billion people. It is time that we stop thinking of having children as necessary or an inalienable right. Nothing personal, but it is people like your mother who have created many of the problems facing the country today.

        Nevertheless, the kids are here, and keeping them uneducated makes them vastly more likely to commit crimes and be a general drain on society. So we really do need to educate them, and we need to do a much better job than we are doing now.. Parents that aren’t actively helping the education of the children at every turn perhaps even need to lose the children. They aren’t pulling their weight, aren’t helping solve the problem, aren’t taking care of the children, and aren’t being proper roll model, then they shouldn’t be involved. It is no different than if the parents weren’t feeding the kids. Not feeding their minds the proper diet is as bad, if not worse, than not feeding their bodies .

        So, even as a “childfree” person,.. I am willing to pay for your children’s education, as the alternative is far more costly to the entire human race in the long run. What we do not have to do though is pay for the kids to play, whether it is music, sports, or whatever. Extra-curriculars are exactly that – Extra. I can’t pay for myself to play, why should I pay for your kids to do so?

        This is not selfish. It is rational. If people would consider the costs of raising these children before getting knocked up, there would be enough resources to provide everyone a perfect, well-rounded education.

        Similarly, we need to adopt a one child policy like China before it is too late, adopt a reasonable stance on abortion and birth control, and let our elders die with dignity rather than keep them attached to hoses and tubes for decades simply because some pro-life twit thinks that life is some god-given precious miracle.

        Having kids is easy, raising them is not.

        • yellow72

          Honestly, my mother is a poster child for a GOOD example of welfare.
          I was not clear in my first comment. My father left my mother with 4 kids ages 3 – 12 y.o. This was 1980, and my mother was raised with the idea that all she was good for was to have children. After 3 years of being on welfare, and my youngest sister could start school, my mother was able to find a full time job, and get out of the welfare system. My father NEVER paid child support, and that was back in the day when they did not garnish wages for child support. He never paid a fine, or went to jail, and he never gave us support.
          So, my mother is actually an example of what welfare was meant to do-support you, until you can do it yourself. She had no other children while in the system, and never did drugs.

          Besides all of that, I have no problem with pay to play either. I don’t care if they get rid of extracurricular sports if that what it takes to make people understand that all that really matters is education! Speaking of China, we are so far behind them in science and math, the USA is becoming a joke.
          And as far as population, I am a supporter of abortion, but most of the country is working towards abolishing it! In, I think Utah, they just passed a law that says if you want an abortion you have to go through 3 days of counseling.
          How about 3 days of counseling before you’re allowed to have sex, or before a girl is raped, or before they do drugs?
          The system is pretty hypocritical when it comes to this policy–nobody wants to support those down on their luck, but nobody wants to deal with the consequences of leaving the very poor ignorant and uneducated, even with public schools!
          I am very glad you made the intelligent comment, “Nevertheless, the kids are here, and keeping them uneducated makes them vastly more likely to commit crimes and be a general drain on society.”
          I do understand the population equation, but if we tell people how many kids they can have, and that they will forced into abortions if they go over that number, (that IS what they do in China), then we turn into a dictatorship. I think we are already too close for comfort with that as it is. I appreciate the feedback.

  • etter

    “…if voters say ‘no’ again, the district says it could mean the end of school sports entirely.”

    So what.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »