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Archive for Thursday, August 22, 2002

Breaking the fee barrier

August 22, 2002

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A local effort to make sure every Lawrence student can pay the fees to participate in school activities deserves the community's support.

A story in Wednesday's Journal-World about a junior high student with a prosthetic leg is an example of the special challenges some families are facing because of cost-cutting measures instituted by the Lawrence school district.

It also points out the importance of a grassroots effort being led by two Lawrence women to help those families.

Most people in the district would agree that school administrators and board members took reasonable action by reducing the number of students who ride the bus for free and adding new fees for students to participate in sports and other activities. The action was needed to preserve programs that Lawrence residents want in their schools, programs like music, debate and scholars bowl.

The additional fees won't be a hardship for many families, and the school district has promised that no student will be denied access to these programs because of an inability to pay. In practice, however, many local residents are worried that some students may be embarrassed to ask for financial help and may choose to simply forgo an activity they are interested in.

The case of parents who couldn't afford to pay for a school bus ride for their son who uses a prosthetic leg was resolved this week by school officials who classified the student as "orthopedically impaired" and waived the normal bus fee. But how many other students will the district be unable to help?

That's where the effort of two local women, Rosy Elmore and Jackie Ferguson, will come into play. The two announced earlier this month that they would spearhead a drive to raise money to help children across the district who need help paying fees for special activities. Their goal is to make sure no Lawrence child is denied a chance to participate in academic and extracurricular activities.

It's a hard goal to argue with. Sports, music and other activities are important to the social and academic development of young people. District patrons have made it clear they want those programs preserved in local schools. The state has cut funding to public schools, and the local district has no ability to levy additional taxes to cover its costs  although that could change if the sales tax approved by Johnson County voters this month holds up in court. Without additional fees, many extracurricular programs probably would be lost to all Lawrence students. It's up to the community to preserve those programs and make sure every student can participate in them.

Elmore and Ferguson are considering such efforts as a silent auction and asking residents to donate their spare change to support a fund that would help families cover activity fees.

"I really feel like people in this community want to take care of our own," Elmore told the Journal-World earlier this month.

We hope Elmore is right and that the community will rally to support this effort to make sure no child in Lawrence is left behind.

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