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High School Sports Subsidies

Speaking of subsidies (see post below), today's Sports Illustrated has a short note by Daniel Habib, "Varsity Blues," which provides a glimpse at the extent of the subsidies for high school sports.

Faced with significant budget cuts last spring, Winthrop High School in Massachusetts decided to eliminate its sports programs. Last week, voters in the town of 20,000 rejected a proposal to fund Winthrop sports through a property tax levy. SI states that the tax hike would have amounted to $1,200 per home, although other projects were apparently included in the referendum -- standard politics at work here. That's a lot of money. SI also notes that a Winthrop student participating in sports currently pays a $325 user fee.

Eliminating sports at Winthrop seems draconian. Perhaps this is yet another example of the government threatening to "shut down the Washington Monument" when a budget crisis emerges, in order to maintain its flow of revenue from citizens. Nevertheless, if I were faced with the opportunity to have my children participate in high school sports at $325 each, and a perpetuity of $1,200 per year in taxes, or even a fraction of that, I think I'd decline.

Are high school sports worth the subsidies they enjoy? Private colleges provide a market test. Students who pay tuition at private colleges, in effect, are casting a vote for the sports programs operating at their school. Many private colleges have extensive and expensive sports programs. But others have none. The essential difference is that high school students are generally limited in their choice of the mix between academic and athletic programs.

My hunch: government subsidies for high school sports are excessive.