National bee to institute school fee

LAWRENCEVILLE - After operating at six-figure losses for years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee is instituting an eligibility requirement that requires schools to pay $99 for students to participate in the competition.

Paying $99 will make a school an association member. Schools that enroll will have free, unlimited online access to spelling bee materials that have previously been sold to schools and their newspaper sponsors, Scripps National Spelling Bee Director Paige Kimble said.

With increasing costs and a decrease in the number of materials sold to newspapers, Kimble said the bee found its financial model was broken.

"We needed to find a new financial model," she said. "We want to bring the program to the break-even basis. We want to remain on a not-for-profit basis."

The bee looked to its peers, such as national geography and math competitions, to find others were charging participation fees.

While the bee may see a drop-off in participation, Kimble said she expects parents, benefactors and members of the business community will support schools by offering the money.

"I think some are jumping to the conclusion that this should be a budget item for the school," Kimble said. "We never envisioned that. We think there will be support at the grass-roots level."

The enrollment period for the bee is Aug. 27 to Oct. 15.

The Georgia Association of Educators Spelling Bee sent a letter to principals in Georgia asking if the school will pay the registration fee. The schools have until March 9 to respond, and a GAE official said no schools have yet responded.

Winners from the state spelling bee advance to the national spelling bee, said Cindy Gaskins, Gwinnett County's spelling bee coordinator.

Gaskins, who has coordinated the county bee since 1991, said she does not support the fee and believes it is unfair.