We recently announced for the upcoming school year in 2016-17, we are eliminating middle and high school pay-to-play athletics. We will no longer charge $80 for the first high school sport, $40 for the first middle school sport, or for additional sports. There will be no athletic participation fees, starting this fall 2016. (If you have already paid your fall 2016 athletics fees, a refund will be issued to you.)

Why is Project Free Education important? 

The data and research is clear that many of our students cannot access the robust activities and athletics opportunities that our schools and community offer here in Bellingham. Too many kids are not able to participate, even with the reduced fees we offered, due to a variety of reasons. Lack of engagement in school, including athletics, can contribute to students dropping out and struggling later in life. Our goal is to ensure that all students have opportunities to engage, learn and find their passion areas, and that their family’s income is not a barrier. As a basketball coach who provides a low-cost program to elementary students recently stated, “We don’t want the have-nots to say they can’t play because they have not.”

Share with me what your thoughts are about Project Free Education.

Comments (21)

  • Dear Dr. Baker and all the BSD staff,

    This is wonderful news, that kids won’t pay to participate in sports!

    Thank you for all that you do for our kids!

    Sincerely,

    Kirsti Charlton

  • Bravo!

    It is important for kids to be able to participate where they would otherwise be excluded. Your move goes beyond that. Even for kids able to pay all the costs – and certainly for kids who can’t – there is a fundamental difference between paying to belong and belonging as an Unalienable Right. The program gives kids this higher quality freedom. What better way to teach it?

    • Hi Daniel, thanks for your comment! We are excited about the opportunities this will create for our kids.

  • Fantastic step towards equality for all students! Now work on reducing BSD’s top-heavy admin (at Roeder and beyond) and use the salary savings to hire more teachers and reduce class size/loads!

    • Thank you for the feedback. During the last few years, we’ve taken many steps to reduce expenses for families and increase support for our schools. We’ve put most of our resources into hiring teachers, which reduces class sizes, and school staff. And, we know that school and district leadership is critical to supporting our students, families and staff, whether we’re implementing new math curriculum or one-to-one technology; expanding mental health services and counseling; supporting teachers to adapt instruction for a wide range of learners – including special education, highly capable and English language learners; creating a new high school schedule; improving safety; developing volunteer and wellness programs; transforming our food services program; expanding early childhood programs; building and updating school facilities; and much, much more. For the number of complex initiatives and major improvements that we’re making for kids, we have a highly efficient and dedicated team of administrators who are at the service of our schools. I agree it’s always important to ensure that we have an appropriate balance of support in our schools and district office. Thank you for the reminder.

  • What a tremendous decision to incorporate the Bellingham Promise into healthy lives and healthy activities/sport options for ALL students. This is community at it’s best serving the whole child. I am elated at what this will give back to the family and the confidence so many more students can and will experience in athletic participation.
    Thank you.

  • Dr Baker, I am overwhelming impressed with your “Project Free Education” accomplishments and drive. I want to mention that there are students who regularly miss having lunch and possibly breakfast. Those students suffer daily because they are hungry and cannot apply themselves or compete with the same level of effort and attention as others. I hope you will add “hunger” to your agenda of necessity for your students. Proper nutrients on a daily basis will greatly elevate the success of all students. I believe that a healthy lunch for all should be a top priority. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks for taking time to comment. I couldn’t agree more. Helping our students and families who struggle to access the basics, from nutritious food to shelter, is not something we can ignore. We developed The Bellingham Promise to help guide our work, and one of our core beliefs is “all children should be loved.” I think that loving our kids (and families) means taking care of them beyond the school day.

      Thankfully, we are able to provide breakfast and lunch for students’ families who demonstrate need. We recently made some adjustments to our breakfast program at our title schools (which are schools with a higher number of children from low-income families). They now serve breakfast in the classroom for all students, not just those who are low-income. We also have a dinner program at Shuksan Middle School, which provides a free, hot meal to any student (18 and under) during most weekday evenings during the school year. But you are right. Students and families are still suffering. We have worked with Bellingham Food Bank to set up a satellite food bank at Alderwood Elementary School, and we will continue to explore more ways to help our families in need. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  • Thank you! Just read on the BHS website that athletics is now free after purchase of an ASB card. I cannot tell you what a relief it is to see this change. First you spearheaded an effort to eliminate the costs of school supplies and now this. All of these types of costs really added up during the course of a school year especially if you have more than one child and/or your child(ren) play more than one sport. Thank you for demonstrating your commitment to the financial concerns of families as well as to the well-being of our children.

    • Thanks for your comment and enthusiasm. I believe your relief is shared by many other families, and not all of them would feel comfortable sharing their concerns. I’m proud of this district and community for continuing to find ways to make public education in Bellingham equitable. We still have a ways to go, but we should celebrate every step we take. Thanks again for your comment.

  • Curious as to why high school band is not included in eliminating the ‘pay to play’ fees? At BHS we’re currently paying $110 each year in band fees, not including required marching shoes, gloves, etc. It’s a tough pill to swallow for many families, especially incoming freshman who were not anticipating it.

    • Thanks for your comment and for making a great point. Your comment was great inspiration to do some additional learning about our high school music classes and their overall structure and expenses. We discovered that families are being asked to pay a range of fees, depending on the school and class.

      We feel it’s important for the school district to cover costs related to the general instruction during the school day, including music, instructor time, instrument repair, etc. Things get murky (similar to what we found with athletics) when personalized clothing or gear is part of the equation. We will continue to work with our great music teachers, staff and principals to help identify costs that we can cover as a system vs. those that need a different funding source.

      I’d like to share a quick reflection on the journey of trying to reduce out-of-pocket expenses for families: I have used a pie analogy a few times when discussing Project Free Education. Every year, we try to cover/eliminate a piece of the “pie of expenses” that families are asked to cover. This is one of those times that we eliminate a slice ….only to realize the pie was bigger than we thought. It’s not the first time it’s happened. Probably not the last.

      Thanks again for your comment!

  • Hello Dr. Baker,

    This is incredible news and an amazing step in the right direction in terms of equal access to athletics. Access to a quality athletics program for every student is incredibly important for education. Athletics in the schools is, in many cases, what keeps a student coming to school. Athletics helps create a culture of camaraderie at the school, and it promotes both physical and mental health.

    I am a coach in both the middle schools and high schools, so I have had a rare opportunity to see the paths of student-athletes from 6th to 12th grade. I have a comment that I hope will spark a discussion that can take us one step closer toward equal access to quality athletics programs for students, and help keep athletes tightly knit into the fabric of education in the Bellingham Schools.

    While it is possible for the community to donate through PTA/PTO and to the Bellingham Public Schools Foundation, these are very high level, largely unrestricted budgets to which the community is being asked to donate. Currently, there is a policy that prevents coaches, students, and parents from fundraising for specific sports at the middle school level and to some extent the high school level. I believe this policy was created with a good intention to promote equal access to athletics. However, it has ironically created a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots in an indirect way. Furthermore, the policy is separating the important connection between athletics and schools.

    By prohibiting coaches, students, and parents from grass roots-level fundraising that can generate revenue specific to Bellingham Middle Schools’ athletics programs or even a specific middle school sports, the community is allowed less control over where their contributions are directed. Instead, the families that can afford to contribute are opting to pay tuition for private club sports and additional heavy donations to private club sports. Consequently, the policy results in a shift in fundraising dollars for school sports that is instead directed to club sports. This lost potential revenue reduces the resources available for middle school sports, and thus reduces the quality of the athletic programs in the middle schools, despite the wholehearted efforts of coaches and volunteers.

    Additionally, when families donate to club sports, it gives them a sense of belonging to club sports over school sports. Thus, the policy that prohibits fundraising at the grass roots level for Bellingham Middle Schools’ athletic programs diminishes the sense of contentedness families once had to school sports. This loss of loyalty to school athletics, in favor of club sports, carries forward into high school, and it affects spectator attendance at events.

    While the policy to prohibit fundraising at the grassroots level in middle school athletics was created with good intention, it has indirectly done the exact opposite. In many sports the policy has aided private clubs to become the primary “superior” venue for the sport; a venue that is only available to those who can afford it. Therefore, the policy has actually created a marked disparity in the Bellingham Schools.

    In addition to the disparity, the policy is moving athletics out of education. I believe embedding athletics within education is a critical factor in the academic success of many students. For many students, school is a place where they feel part of a team, and that keeps them engaged.

    Finally, if we end up in another budget crisis in the future, removal of this policy would allow for a much more agile financial mechanism to protect Bellingham Schools’ Athletics Programs, and “pay-to-play” may remain gone forever.

    I hope you’ll consider changing the policy that prohibits fundraising at the grass roots level for middle school athletics.

    Thank you for everything you do for our community!

    Ryan Moore
    Whatcom Middle School Coach
    Former Squalicum High School Coach

    • Hi Ryan, thanks for your thoughtful comment and for reaching out. We are definitely on the same page about the reasons why investing and supporting athletics (and all enrichment) is important for our students.

      I’m sorry if there has been some confusion on who can fundraise and how. We have a fundraising policy but it doesn’t prohibit fundraising, rather it provides procedures and guidelines on how to fundraise within our parameters.

      You are correct that we made a decision last spring to discontinue magazine fundraising at the middle school level and encourage donations through the Bellingham Schools Foundation. The intention of Project Free Education is to reduce costs for families, which is exciting and challenging. We celebrate every step we take toward a truly “free education,” and yet we keep uncovering more fees, costs, fundraising efforts. Not because anyone is doing anything wrong! The need is real, and amazing people working on behalf of kids (like you!) are doing their best to meet those needs and get creative.

      I’d love to sit down and talk more with you about how we can better support our students, families, coaches and community. Thanks again, Ryan!

  • Thank you so much for this change. Does this mean that high school kids will no longer be going door-to-door selling items to raise money? One young man just came by saying he was from a Squalicum team. I was surprised, but perhaps they are canvassing for uniform fees or something like that? Thanks!

    • hi there, thanks for the question. Yes, as you can see by Laura’s comment, it’s very plausible our student are still fundraising to support their sport. The pay-to-play fees that we eliminated are one portion of the costs associated with participating in a sport or activity. Students and families are still expected to cover costs for personalized uniforms, shoes, spirit wear and other equipment that would be difficult to re-use year-to-year. Thanks for jumping on the blog!

  • Dr. B, Thank you for your ongoing efforts to eliminate extra fees. We, along with many people outside our district, are consistently impressed with the leadership of this district on the Project Free Education and other initiatives. I was also grateful to learn last spring of the shift in focus toward the Foundation for middle school fundraising. I was a little surprised then, to find that my freshman’s first official football practice focused on fundraising for the team, with a fairly lofty sales goal for each player. Would love to see a similar move at the high school level to consolidate fundraising efforts and eliminate, or at least reduce, the involvement of outside fundraising companies.

    • hi Laura, thanks for taking the time to reach out. You make a great point. Fundraising at the high school level is definitely complicated. Project Free Education is (and may always be) a work in progress, and as you can see, we are not at our end point. While we were excited to eliminate one fundraising effort by working with the Foundation, there are still many issues we need to tackle (no pun intended).

      The elimination of the pay-to-play fees was just one slice of a very big pie. We’re in the process of compiling a list of all the additional costs associated with sports or activities (any and all, across all of our schools), and so far, it appears to range from $100 to over $1000, based on the school, coach, team expectations, equipment and so on. We’re in our sixth year of this endeavor, and we continue to work with PTAs, Bellingham Schools Foundation and other partners for more ideas, engagement and creative solutions to reduce financial barriers for our families and kids. The fact is our activities are costly, and all kids should have the opportunity to participate – not just those who have means and/or can fundraise! Thanks again for your comment.

  • Hi Ryan, thanks for your thoughtful comment and for reaching out. We are definitely on the same page about the reasons why investing and supporting athletics (and all enrichment) is important for our students.

    I’m sorry if there has been some confusion on who can fundraise and how. We have a fundraising policy but it doesn’t prohibit fundraising, rather it provides procedures and guidelines on how to fundraise within our parameters.

    You are correct that we made a decision last spring to discontinue magazine fundraising at the middle school level and encourage donations through the Bellingham Schools Foundation. The intention of Project Free Education is to reduce costs for families, which is exciting and challenging. We celebrate every step we take toward a truly “free education,” and yet we keep uncovering more fees, costs, fundraising efforts. Not because anyone is doing anything wrong! The need is real, and amazing people working on behalf of kids (like you!) are doing their best to meet those needs and get creative.

    I’d love to sit down and talk more with you about how we can better support our students, families, coaches and community. Thanks again, Ryan!