UPDATE: RIDE – Charging Fees for School Sports Not Allowed
Updating my post of a couple weeks ago (and confirming a comment by WJAR’s Bill Rappleye at the time), the RI Department of Education has issued a statement that school districts can’t charge fees for interscholastic sports (via ProJo 7to7):
School districts cannot, under current state law, charge fees for interscholastic sports, and if a district wants to, they’ll have to get the General Assembly to change the law, the state Department of Education advised the Rhode Island Interscholastic League in a letter the league released Thursday.
The letter, signed by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, reiterated a position taken by the department for decades. It cited laws dating back to the 1800s that it said set a clear state policy of not allowing fees to be charged for school activities.
“These principles compel us to the conclusion that public education in Rhode Island in not a means-tested welfare program,” the letter said.
Gist acknowledged the widespread financial distress that the state’s municipalities find themselves in this year, but said the law and court cases on the matter were clear and left the department no other possible ruling.
The department has issued similar advisories over the past decade, she said, and none of them have been challenged by the courts or the legislature.
“The General Assembly has never acted to overturn this position,” she wrote, and that has led the department to assume “that the assembly does not disagree with the interpretation we have given.”
Gist said districts might have fund-raising alternatives. She pointed to legislation passed this session by the legislation that allows school districts to accept donations targeted for specific purposes set by the donor.
“Perhaps this funding mechanism could be employed to greater effect to secure additional support for school sports,” she said.
ADDENDUM: North Smithfield is going to go ahead and charge sports participation fees anyway. Looks like this one is going to the courts.