A recent story from The Associated Press is both timely and illuminating.

Pennsylvania school districts are increasingly drawn to the practice of having their student-athletes pay for the privilege of participating in interscholastic sports.

The culprit is tighter budgets coupled with taxpayer angst over rising bills.

Other factors include a looming state pension crisis and the growing cost of health care for state employees.

The report focused on districts in south-central Pennsylvania.

But the budget realities and feelings about pay-to-play programs would be applicable anywhere.

In Mechanicsburg, Pa., school board President Dawn Merris said: “Schools would be remiss if they did not start looking at pay-to-play.”

Other school officials countered that poorer students might not have the money to pay-to-play, and that athletics are a critical component of a school district’s overall learning atmosphere.

“It’s been proven that students who are active in any extracurricular activity do better in school,” said Bud Shaffner, president of the Cumberland Valley school board.

The report surveyed 179 public and private schools and found that 29 of them — including 22 public schools — had made the switch.

Fees to participate ranged from $5 to $50 at the public schools, and were higher at the private institutions.

… Districts that adopt pay-to-play policies face a decision that would be unpopular with many parents, but perhaps justice for those taxpayers who have no youngsters in school systems — no children running pass patterns or marching in formation on spiffy new artificial-turf fields.

And we suspect most parents would favor paying to participate over the alternative of dropping programs altogether.

— The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

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