In an Era of Austerity, Should We Keep Funding Public School Sports?

Updated on December 1, 2016

High School Football is Tradition...But Should We Have to Fund it With Taxes?

The iconic novel Friday Night Lights, set in west Texas, highlights America's love of high school football.
The iconic novel Friday Night Lights, set in west Texas, highlights America's love of high school football. | Source

Should K-12 Sports be Privatized?

Is it wrong to spend taxpayer dollars on sports in public schools? Rarely has such a can of worms been opened. If you think that people get hot under the collar about same-sex marriage, flag burning, or Obamacare, you ain't seen nothin' yet! In Nevada, Russell Davis has proposed ending taxpayer support for public school football. As a school board candidate, he argues that the physical dangers of football make it an unacceptable institution to fund.

But, dangers of high school football aside, should any taxpayer money go to public school sports in our post-Great Recession age of austerity? My school district is in the midst of a painful budget crunch, and teachers may have to divert money from their paychecks to their health insurance premiums, effectively resulting in a pay cut. The district, however, has insisted that no extracurricular programs will be cut. As a teacher, I find it unconscionable that football will still be funded...but educators will have to suffer through pay cuts.

As a nation, our academic rigor is lagging. We have low test scores and do poorly compared with virtually all other industrialized nations - despite spending the most dollars per student! In America, we spend lavishly on education but see little return. Where we do truly stand out from other industrialized nations is our obsession with sports. While we are quick to debate endlessly about hot-button issues like teacher training and the effects of standardized testing on students' self-esteem, few are brave enough to broach the topic of sports funding.

If we cut the funding for public school sports in half, or eliminated it entirely, would the additional funds for classroom learning lead to improved education outcomes for children and teens? Obviously, there would be some improvement. The question is, how much improvement for what cost? What would we gain in terms of graduation rates and college preparedness versus what would we lose in terms of athletic benefits? We must examine how much benefit is derived from public school sports.

Undoubtedly, many students are improved through sport. Young men and women gain physical and mental prowess from public school sports, as well as creativity and leadership skills. But can these same benefits not be derived from club or city league sports? Or could they not be derived from academic-oriented extracurriculars or, dare we say it, more time in the classroom? Shifting our focus from public school sports to academic-oriented extracurriculars could minimize the loss of leadership skills, creativity, and mental sharpness derived from soccer, basketball, volleyball, or football.

And which students do public school sports benefit? A primary argument in favor of well-funded sports programs is that they encourage the attendance and classroom participation of students who would otherwise drop out of high school. For example, coaches often declare that some students only attend school because of football or basketball. Take that away from them, and they will refuse to come to class. But should we educators be held hostage by our students in this way? This is especially true given that it is a minority of students. When it comes to sports, unlike academics, there is little inclusiveness. You have to make the team.

While education itself is supposed to be universal and inclusive, varsity sports, especially at large public high schools, can be anything but. Only good athletes make the team. The select few are being subsidized by the masses. If public school sports want taxpayer dollars, then shouldn't they be as inclusive as the public school classrooms themselves? How can a public school deny a student a spot on the varsity team for alleged lack of ability, especially when such an occurrence in an academic setting would be swiftly and loudly condemned? Many schools have made AP classes open enrollment, allowing any student to register...so why are sports exempt from such mandated inclusiveness?

If parents truly believe that their children will benefit from sports, then a market will develop to cater to their demand. Private sports leagues will develop, and teams can allow poor-but-athletic children and teens to join at a discount, trading lower revenue for greater prospects of winning. While education should be considered a public good, I see little reason why sports should not be privatized.



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