When their financial belts tighten, schools have to juggle priorities and make tough decisions.

And sometimes those decisions can place a price tag on perks that have been free of charge for students and families for generations.

Ahead of the 2019 academic year, Hillsborough Township Public Schools joined a growing list of districts throughout the state that are charging fees for participation in school sports and other co-curricular activities such as clubs.

"The Board of Education recognizes the value of athletic competition and co-curricular activities outside the regular instructional program," a policy on the district's website reads. "However, with reduced or limited revenue and increased expenses, the Board must consider alternative revenue options to support these school-sponsored activities."

At the high school level, the policy says, there's an annual fee of $100 for each sport in which a student participates, and a $50 fee to cover any clubs and activities a student wishes to explore. The fees are smaller in middle school and even smaller in elementary school.

While the change could come as a shock to local parents who've seen the district run athletics and programs at no cost to families, the idea of implementing such fees is nothing new.

In 2010, when the New Jersey School Boards Association last conducted a survey on the topic, it was found that at least 33 districts in the state were charging a fee for participating in sports or extracurricular activities. Some districts established those fees as early as the mid-1990s.

"As schools encounter a difficult economic climate ... they have the ability to charge activity fees," Janet Bamford, NJSBA's manager of communications and publications, told New Jersey 101.5. "It can enable districts to maintain extracurricular activities when otherwise they might have to cut them."

For the most part, students whose parents can't afford to pay activity fees are not denied access, Bamford said. Hillsborough's policy states that students who qualify for a free or discounted lunch are eligible for an activity fee waiver.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.