Saturday, September 26, 2020
US flag

Not as many Dunlap 5th graders play an instrument

An activity fee of $100 may be the reason 25 percent fewer fourth and fifth graders in Dunlap, Illinois, play an instrument in elementary school today than in 2014, the Peoria Journal-Star reports.

Music teachers, who came to a school board meeting earlier this week, said the district started charging the activity fee in 2014 as a temporary fix to reduce budget deficits. But now, the school board is contemplating increasing the fee to $125, while the teachers would rather see it cut in half, or eliminated altogether, especially for the youngest students.

The fee covers all activities, so for older students in this central Illinois community, that includes sports, music, speech, scholastic bowl, or whatever. But for fourth- and fifth-grade students, the only real activity choices are band and orchestra. Add to that other registration costs and the average instrument rental of more than $500 annually, and it’s possible some students’ families would have to come up with $1000 every year just to play in the band.

“We want you to consider the message you send when we say if you can’t pay, you can’t play,” the paper quoted Tina Holloway, the school’s band director, as saying to the board.

Unfortunately, activity fees like those used in Dunlap are a fact of life at many schools across the country. One reason they’re unlikely to be reduced or eliminated in many places is that several governors, most of them Republican, support tax credits for people who donate money to schools.

In Arizona last year, for example, public schools received $46 million from individuals and couples through the state’s tax credit program, while corporate and personal tax credits for private school tuition totaled $161 million.

In other words, Arizona’s 465 private schools saw 36.6 percent of last year’s tax credit funding, while more than 2,200 public schools shared just 10.5 percent.

Now lawmakers in the state are considering eliminating the tax credit, the reason being the credits are taking money away from other programs they want to provide for their constituents. In a staggering display of the depths of “opportunity cost,” both Republicans and Democrats want to get rid of the tax credit.

But another side effect of such a tax credit, since corporations generally have more money to donate than individuals, is that private schools get a lot more money than public schools and, because the government doesn’t have as much money for public school programs, those programs get cut in some cases and, in others, bring sharp increases in the activity fees charged to students just to keep the programs surviving.

The situation in Arizona should sound familiar to Illinois taxpayers. Voxitatis reported that the state’s tax credit program resulted in $36 million being sent to schools last year, most of them private. This is happening as the state revises its funding formula to leave public schools with less money. That’s the opportunity cost, again: If we spend money on tax credits for private schools, we necessarily take that money away from other programs lawmakers would like to fund, including public school activities, like band and orchestra.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Schools rethink the whole idea of snow days

Why have snow days anymore if we can have 'virtual learning' days, now that we know a thing or two about how they work?

Student news roundup, Maryland, Sept. 24

State to allow sports beginning in Oct., but some districts won't go back yet; Miss Maryland Agriculture; music lessons virtually.

Grand jury indicts officer in Breonna Taylor case

A former police officer was indicted in connection with the death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville. But it was less than many had hoped for.

New youth forum talks virtual learning in Md.

Virtual learning thoughts from a Md. HS: It can work and keeps kids safe, but it ends up being harder (you can't just ask a teacher if you don't understand).

IL brings 1000s back to school for SAT exam

Many IL seniors went back to their school buildings today to make up the SAT exam, which they missed last spring as juniors due to the pandemic.

Baltimore City Schools to lay off 450

Layoffs are coming to Baltimore City Schools due to a budget shortfall. Some teachers and teacher's assistants are included in the layoffs.

How citizens prefer to fund environmental action

Growing demand for countries to combat climate change, less consensus on how to fund it. New study offers insight from the US, UK, Germany, France.

Student news roundup, Illinois, Sept. 21

The death of The Notorious RBG, foreign exchange student from France, live streaming plays, BLM, and (of course) remote learning.

Fewer kindergartners, more college drop-outs

The nation has experienced an increase in college drop-outs, esp. among low-income families, and an explainable decrease in kindergarten enrollment.

Tim Kaine talks to Fairfax Co. seniors

In Virginia, protesters intimidated citizens at an early voting center in Fairfax Co. Sen. Tim Kaine talks about voting to students.

Obituary: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is certain to bring a political battle between the president, the Senate, and Democrats.