Public, Charter, and Private Schools in Extracurricular Activities

With the recent discussion on school classifications and alignment for extracurricular activities, I wanted to discuss some of the issues facing our schools. First and foremost, I fully support the movement of the parent petition to the Utah High School Activities Association called “Level the Playing Field.” The inequality in extracurricular activities between private/charter schools and public schools is a grievous tragedy that has existed for over twenty years in high school sports, where all sports have been negatively impacted by allowing private and charter schools the ability to offer scholarships and incentives for the recruitment of specific high school athletes. Private schools do not receive state or federal funding. They are funded through tuition, donation, and grants, which can be used to incentivize students to attend their schools. In 1998 the Utah Legislature approved the first charter schools based on a parent’s choice for an education platform. Charter schools are public schools that receive state and federal government funding and may have a specific focus area of study. It is not uncommon for charter schools to have an application process to be accepted based on predetermined parameters. The Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) is the governing entity for all extracurricular activities in the state and makes the final decision on regions and classifications for all schools. If change were going to be made, it would have to occur at the UHSAA Board of Trustees. It will be a heavy lift to make changes at this level, but it can be done if we can overcome some of the following issues:

1- All schools are not unified or supportive of the change, especially in the 3A-5A classifications, because they typically are not affected by the private schools to the same degree, and all classifications have a vote on the UHSAA Board of Trustees. The UHSAA classification of private schools is mainly a 1A and 2A issue because most private schools have similar enrollments.

2- UHSAA participating schools have presented requests to their Board of Trustees many times for specific sports to change how private schools are classified, but it still hasn’t brought about change.

3- The UHSAA is its own entity. They don’t work for school boards, the State Board of Education, or the Utah Legislature; there is no way to vote in a change, and it is difficult to influence the association. 

Solutions to classifying a private school have been ongoing issues nationwide since the early 1980s. Some states have implemented a higher multiplying factor of 1.5 or higher for private schools, which can force them to move to a higher classification. Other state activity associations have created their own leagues and classifications for private schools. A few states have banned private schools from participating in their association, which has led to legal battles where their decisions were not supported by the courts. Some states have created a second high school activities association for public schools. There is not an easy solution to the issue of private school participation, but if schools can become united and if we have enough support from the public, we might be able to apply enough pressure on the UHSAA to address the issue.