PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - School districts would be allowed to charge students to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs, or band under legislation filed by state Sen. Louis DiPalma.
The bill, which DiPalma has also sponsored in previous legislative sessions, was introduced at the request of the Middletown School Committee and is enabling, which means communities would not be required to assess fees to students.
"Many, many school departments continue to struggle with the challenge of how best to meet the Basic Education Program," DiPalma, D-Middletown, said. "Many of these school departments are those who are seeing declining support as a result of the education funding formula, something which will continue for the majority of the rest of decade."
The House version of the legislation is sponsored by first-term state Rep. Linda Finn, D-Middletown.
DiPalma said the bill would provide relief to school departments that have been forced to cut extracurricular activities to close budget gaps.
But critics say economically disadvantaged students may be scared away from getting involved if the so-called pay-to-play bill is passed. In 2011, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees (RIASC) and the American Civil Liberties Union came out in strong opposition of the legislation.
Two years later, RIASC executive director Tim Duffy said his stance hasn't changed.
"We understand districts need to raise revenue, but we wouldn't want to see it at the expense of what is a rite of passage for high school students," Duffy said.
Still, DiPalma said his bill carves out exemptions for low-income students.
"Cognizant that not all families can afford any such assessment, the legislation stipulates that students eligible for USDA reimbursable school meals shall be exempt from such assessments," he said. "Additionally, any plan for assessing fees must provide a means for a family to petition for relief from such assessments based upon financial and other hardships."