One of my favorite UW–Madison classes was the Olympic history class taught by Prof. Alfred Senn, who said at the beginning and throughout the course that to believe that sports and politics were ever separate or could ever be separated was futile.
Senn’s valuable cynicism comes to mind because of what the Wisconsin Sports Network reported:
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has started a petition against a recent Wisconsin legislative proposal that would allow students from private schools, virtual schools, and home-schooled students to participate on sports teams of public schools in their district.
WisSports.net reports the language in the 2015–17 state budget thusly:
29. Participation in Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities. Require a school board to permit a pupil who resides in the school district to participate in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities on the same basis and to the same extent as pupils enrolled in the district, if the pupil is enrolled in one of the following: (a) a home-based private educational program; (b) a private school located in the district; (c) an independent “2r” charter school located in the district; or (d) a virtual school. Provide that a pupil who is enrolled in a home-based private educational program and is determined by the public school or school board to be ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletics because of inadequate academic performance would be considered ineligible to participate. Specify that a pupil attending a private school or an independent “2r” charter school could only participate in a sport that the private school or charter school does not offer.
Provide that a school district could not be a member of an athletic association unless the association required member school districts to permit home-based, private, charter, and virtual charter pupils to participate in athletic activities in the district.
Provide that a school board may charge participation fees to a non-public pupil who participates in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities, including fees for uniforms, equipment, and musical instruments, on the same basis and to the same extent as these fees are charged to pupils enrolled in the district.
For the state education establishment, which certainly includes the WIAA, to expect any sympathy from the state GOP seems as likely to happen as the Brewers’ winning the World Series this year. On the other hand, if the majority party in the Legislature doesn’t like the WIAA, the Legislature has the ability to wipe the WIAA out of existence by legislating that the state Department of Public Instruction be responsible, to borrow from the WIAA Constitution, “To organize, develop, direct, and control an interscholastic athletic program” for state schools. (That would certainly make superintendent of public instruction elections much more interesting, and maybe it would compel Wisconsin conservatives to get behind candidates with a better view of what our schools should be than the current superintendent of public instruction and his predecessors going back as far as memory. If indeed school sports are an extension of the classroom, shouldn’t DPI regulate school sports?)
There are numerous reasons why parents might not want their children to attend the local public school. Some schools, frankly, aren’t very good. (Read the School Report Cards.) There are some good school districts with bad teachers (largely due to the evil teacher union), and there are some school districts with poor administrators. If it’s correct that everyone learns differently, then it stands to reason that some children don’t learn in the local public school environment as well as they are capable of learning. Public school choice is great, unless your family lacks the means to get a child from home to school. Some students are bullied, and some schools clearly do little about bullying.
There are obvious reasons as well why non-students like high school sports. Games at the local YMCA don’t attract thousands of fans. Nor do the events of any non-school-based athletic club. For hundreds of small Wisconsin towns, the local high school is the source of that community’s prominence, and a big part of that is high school sports.
Independent of whether the proposal should become law (and apparently the state of Washington allows this), or be included in the 2015–17 state budget, the WIAA’s statement is full of not-entirely-truths. Let’s peruse and parse:
Please, keep in mind that the “WIAA” is a voluntary membership of public and non-public schools that have joined together to create and provide programming opportunities for the students in their school. To have the state government limit or prohibit membership in the WIAA — unless legislative mandates are followed — is an alarming precedent and an unacceptable over-reach in an attempt to control a voluntary, private and non-profit organization. To be clear, as a private entity, the WIAA receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.
There are two enormously disingenuous statements in this paragraph. The first is that WIAA membership is voluntary. It is voluntary unless your school district wants to (1) host high school sports and (2) have any WIAA-member high school as an opponent. WIAA membership is as voluntary as the voluntary contributions to the UW Athletic Department to keep your football season tickets.
The even more disingenuous statement is that the WIAA “receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.” Where do you suppose WIAA-membership dues came from — trees? (I used the past tense because the WIAA Board of Control voted April 21 to suspend member dues for two years to “further disconnect the organization from the indirect use of public tax dollars.” Interesting timing, isn’t it?)
Most high school sports are played in high schools whose construction was paid for, and whose maintenance is paid for, by taxpayers. While sports and school booster clubs contribute some funding, high school (and where they exist, WIAA middle school) coaches’ salaries and sports equipment are paid for by the school district, which means those salaries are paid for by taxpayers too. So are officials’ payments for games. And, of course, public schools are supported by taxpayers whose children may not go to public schools. (That is something liberals could not care less about.)
An overlooked aspect of this bill that should not be discarded is the divisiveness that is derived from the displacement of students who are actually full-time students and their school. The proposal marginalizes the commitment and opportunities for students enrolled in their school to represent their school.
Small schools traditionally have been concerned that opening the door to non-students for participation in its sports programs would accelerate the loss of enrollment and consequently, state aid.
The dropping percentage of student involvement in high school sports belies that statement. (For a variety of reasons, including student laziness and preference to do something other than compete in sports, such as compete on the XBox.) That statement also parrots the education establishment’s perspective that parents have no right to send their children to a non-public school.
High schools across the state are dropping not necessarily sports, but teams (going from, say, a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team to just varsity and JV) not due to the evil Republicans, but due to dropping enrollment. (Unless decreasing family sizes are somehow the GOP’s fault.) That is the same reason for the increase in the number of cooperative programs, sports with two or more schools’ students on the same team. (Including co-ops that include public and private high schools, such as Wautoma and Faith Christian in football.) Somehow that’s not divisive, but the GOP proposal is divisive. The only roster size rules that exist are for varsity games.
The membership recently addressed competitive equity concerns among public and private schools, and it determined — as it has done consistently — to treat all segments of the membership uniformly.
Well, that’s one way to put it. This refers to the WIAA’s votes on proposals to address competitive equity complaints from small public schools that similar-size private schools that can draw from much larger population areas were competing in the same state-tournament division. That would include, for instance, Whitefish Bay Dominican, which won four consecutive state boys basketball championships competing against non-metro-area schools Colfax, Cuba City, Auburndale, Brillion, Blair–Taylor and Mineral Point. (Plus one similar Catholic school, Eau Claire Regis.) WIAA membership rejected (1) increasing private-school enrollment for postseason purposes, as Illinois does; (2) reducing public-school enrollment by 40 percent of the percentage of students getting free- and reduced-price lunches, as Minnesota does; or (3) pushing teams, public or private, that get to state a lot upward an enrollment class. That could be a sign of the difficulty in finding a good solution for the small schools’ complaints; it could also be a sign that WIAA members don’t care about small public schools.
It is certainly true that policy added to the state budget late in the budgeting process (the fiscal year and budget cycle ends June 30) is an invitation for demonstrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is also true that the WIAA’s institutional arrogance and Democratic-leaning interest groups’ knee-jerk opposition to non-public schools (and refusal to admit that some of Wisconsin’s public schools are not serving their children well) has led Wisconsin to this point. The author of this proposal is reportedly state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R–Fond du Lac), who should get a call from WIAA leadership soon.