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Supporters of a bill dubbed the “Tim Tebow law” have reason to celebrate in Virginia, as H.B. 947 – which would give homeschool students access to public school athletic activities – passed today 59-39 in the Virginia House of Delegates.
The bill sponsored by Virginia Delegate Rob Bell is based on a similar law in Florida that allowed a homeschooled boy to excel in football, move on to win a Heisman Trophy in college and then become a famed NFL quarterback for the Denver Broncos: Tim Tebow.
John B. Whitehead, president of the Ruthorford Institute, told WND, “The chance to compete with one’s peers, to fully develop one’s potential, and to perhaps earn a scholarship to attend an institution of higher learning that might otherwise not be within a family’s reach should be available to all Virginia students, including homeschooled students.
“H.B. 947 is a long-overdue and much-needed acknowledgment by the Commonwealth of Virginia that homeschooled students are an equal and valued part of our communities and should be allowed to share their talents with their respective communities.”
Bell, the author, told WND, “We’re very excited.”
He explained that the bill will next need to pass through the Virginia Senate, and if successful there, it will be sent to the governor who “strongly supports the bill.”
Opponents of the bill include the Virginia High School League and the state teachers union.
In an email to WND, the Virginia High School League provided a statement opposing the legislation.
The League quotes former State Superintendent for Public Instruction William Bosher saying in part, “Allowing students who are homeschooled to participate in high school athletics could change the entire structure of high school athletics.”
He argued that because “homeschool students can follow most any curriculum they want, it is possible that many excellent athletes will suddenly become homeschooled and move into other school zones where they want to play.
“This would, in essence, create a free agency system that might even lead to recruiting at the high school level.”
Bell told WND that there are already Virginia students who are eligible to play high school sports who never set foot in a school building, much like a homeschool student, but only the homeschool students are banned from activities.
“There are students who take classes at local colleges, and even online classes, that never attend their high school, but they get to play high school sports,” Bell said.
He said that the bill addresses the foreseeable problems and then some.
“We listened to the concerns from the Virginia High School League and addressed as many as we could in the bill,” he told WND.
“Residency, for example, is covered in the bill. The student has to play for the school district they reside in,” he said.
“We even added provisions over and above what the high school league listed as concerns.
He said the bill allows a school to charge the homeschool student fees to cover expenses such as equipment.
Bell told WND that at last count there were more than 32,000 homeschool students in Virginia, with about 6,000 of them in high school.
“This bill gives them a chance to play sports where they might not otherwise be able to,” he said. “I had one kid in my district, who has no other options than the local high school, say to me, ‘I just want to play.'”
The Virginia High School League statement also hints that homeschool education is not on par with the “operation of a strong public school system that is driven by standards, individual student accountability, school accountability, and school division accountability.”
The statement says that homeschool students and parents assuming responsibility for their own education apart from the public school system do so at “lower standards than those required for public school students.”
But Bell said that homeschooled students in Virginia actually have stronger standards, “being forced to take nationalized tests annually, which is more than the public school students.”
Whitehead, in a letter to the Virginia legislature, said, “Indeed, the idea that homeschooled students might fail to meet minimal academic standards is belied by studies showing that homeschoolers tend to outperform public school students on standardized tests.”
The High School League also says that a homeschool student “has no vested interest in the school they represent. They show up to practice, play, and go home. If they had a vested interest in the school, they would be attending the school.”
Citing “only so many seats on the bench,” the league also addresses fairness.
“If a non-student makes the team, a student attending the school will not,” it says.
But Whitehead answers questions of fairness like this: “Parents of homeschooled children pay the same taxes other families pay to support the activities and programs of public schools, they should have access to the programs, including athletic programs, their hard-earned dollars support.”
Whitehead said that opponents’ concerns are all addressed by the legislation or existing law, “particularly as they relate to fairness, academic eligibility standards and possible recruiting abuses by coaches.”
He noted that at least 14 other states have passed legislation similar to H.B. 947, while 28 states total nationwide allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports.