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A new state law requires school districts to allow charter school students to participate in extracurricular events and on sports teams such as the North Medford High School boys soccer team. [Mail Tribune / Andy Atkinson]

Play ball!

Charter schools in Medford are praising a new law that allows charter students to participate in extracurricular programs — including sports — in the district, but that victory comes with a price tag. 

Under Senate Bill 208, districts may not deny charter students from participating in interscholastic activities, but districts can charge up to 5 percent of the district's state funding per student.

Medford School District officials said the district will scrap its extracurricular programs policy, which barred charter students from its extracurricular programs, to comply with the new law in 2018. This year, Medford schools are allowing charter students to participate on a case-by-case basis, depending on the availability of space on teams and resources.

Under the new law, the district could only base a charter student's eligibility to play sports on test scores.

"To see the bill passed, it was such great news for charter school students in Oregon," said Amy Maukonen, founder and lead teacher of the Valley School. "This bill is giving charter students an opportunity to participate in these activities."

Jason Winningham, seventh- to 12th-grade principal and athletic director of Logos Public Charter School, said the bill is a big step for charter schools, but he's wary about the additional fees.

"It's one thing that the bill was passed, but it's another thing what the interpretation will look like," Winningham said. "I don't think the initial purpose of the bill was (for charter schools) to be charged more by sponsoring districts, but it's still up for interpretation."

Winningham said that Logos has been informed that MSD will charge the maximum amount for each student participating in its district’s interscholastic programs, such as sports, jazz club, choir and band. The law also allows the district to charge an additional fee of up to 5 percent if the program requires the student to enroll in a course for credit.

For example, Winningham said, if a Logos student plays football at North Medford High School, NMHS could charge Logos a fee of 5 percent for the sport. And if NMHS requires its football players to take a weigh- training class, Logos could be charged another 5 percent for the class.

Under Oregon law, school districts keep a 20 percent share of the state funding allocated for kindergarten through eighth-grade charter students, and 5 percent for high school charter students.

"It's a significant amount, absolutely," Winningham said. "Already for sponsoring us, we're giving the Medford School District almost $1 million every year. For them to take even more on top of that is a little gouging. That's a lot of money."

While Logos has fewer than a dozen of students currently participating in extracurricular programs, the costs will add up, Winningham said.

According to a State School Fund Grant projection report for the 2017-18 school year released in March, Medford schools will receive $7,275 in state funding per student. District officials said that equates to a fee of roughly $350 per charter student for participating, and roughly $700 per charter student if a course is required.

"That's a huge amount of money for us, and that will restrict some of our students from participating, because we can't afford it," Maukonen said. "We would have to do some fundraising to cover that cost."

Winningham said the Logos School Board has voted to establish a fund to cover the additional costs.

Valley School Director Amy Thuren said her school doesn't have any students in those programs this year, but if there's a request from students, the school would find the means to accommodate it.

"We do have a couple of sports teams here for our middle school students — basketball, cross-country, tennis," Thuren said. "But if it's worth it for the child and family to participate in those programs, we will make it work."

MSD spokeswoman Natalie Hurd said the district doesn't have a timeline of when the current policy will be revised or know how different the policy might be, as the district is still waiting to receive guidelines from the Oregon School Boards Association.

"We will let them play," Hurd said. "But our policy hasn't been reviewed yet, and I don't have the information of when we will be revising it."

Athletics and other interscholastic activities, Winningham said, are important for the students' experience, because they help connect students to a community and encourage them to stay committed to school.

"There are still certain things that need to be ironed out," he said. "Ultimately, I think it's working out — our students are being able to play. That's the key thing."

 — Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@mailtribune.com.

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