Virginia's 'Tim Tebow Bill' Is Dead
By: Bob Cook
March 1, 2012
In a shocking upset, Virginia’s Senate Education and Health Committee on Thurs., March 1, rejected a “Tim Tebow bill,” which would have required public schools to let home-schoolers participate in sports and other activities. The bill passed the Virginia House 59-39 and was expected to be signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell. It was thought that with a Republican-controlled legislature and a Republican governor, a Tebow bill — which gets its name from Denver quarterback Tim Tebow, who played on a high school team as a homeschooler in Florida — would pass after failing since 2005. That thought, apparently, was wrong.
The 8-7 vote was Republicans for, and Democrats against — except for the one person who crossed party lines. That’s Sen. Harry B. Blevins, a Republican from Chesapeake. He’s put out no official statement on his vote as of this writing, but here is a clue why he voted against the Tebow bill: he’s a former public high school principal and coach. Schools — as well as the Virginia High School League, which oversees high school sports in the state –had objected to the Tebow bill. Had it passed, Virginia would have been the 26th state to either require homeschoolers get the opportunity to participate in school activities. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, 16 states allow home-schooled students to play sports at public schools, while nine others either leave the decision to localities or merely don’t prohibit homeschoolers from playing.
Technically, the Virginia bill would have barred any public school from participating in an association that disallowed homeschoolers from participating in school sports. The Virginia High School League has such a ban. The bill also would have allowed public schools to charge “reasonable fees” to cover the cost of homeschoolers. While every property owner pays taxes toward schools, whether they have children there or not, a percentage of funding comes from the state, which has schools compile average daily attendance, and apportions money based on that. The language allowing fee collection was meant to give schools the option of making up for the money they weren’t getting from the state to pay for the homeschooler on the football team.
The issue of homeschoolers participating in public school activities is one fraught with emotion, and I know I’ve done my share of huffing and puffing about it. I’ve stated that I’ve been against the idea, but I think there’s a way to make it work to the satisfaction of homeschoolers and public-schoolers — and the first step is taking the emotion out of the issue, if possible.
For homeschoolers pushing a Tim Tebow bill, I think you’d get more support if you dropped the “not-fair-I-pay-my-taxes-my-kid-will-never-know-Friday-not-cheers-approach,” which was an early focus of the argument for the Virginia legislation. (One of the homeschool students speaking at a legislative hearing about the Virginia bill was a kid who already had a scholarship in hand to play soccer at the University of Virginia. And how he was hurt by not playing school sports?) You decided to send you child to a separate school, a school that happens to not have a name and a dedicated building. It’s no different than sending your child to private school.
So, instead, focus on expanding opportunities for children. Who’s against that? The bill should allow children who are homeschooled and private-school children access to public school activities IF it is determined there are no equivalent activities available at their school, or available locally through public facilities such as parks departments. The strongest argument I’ve heard for allowing homeschoolers to participate in public school activities is that in rural areas, there are no other options available. Also, by including private-school kids who might not have, say, a theater department in their small school, the bill seems less about placating homeschoolers, and more about helping children in general.
I like the “reasonable fee” aspect in the Virginia bill, although, if possible, if there is a way to adjust state funding to allow some wiggle room for eligible homeschoolers and private-schoolers to participate in public school activities, that would be even better. Even small pay-to-play fees can be barriers to parents, so anything that eliminates them is good.
I also believe the bill should recognize that the governing body of sports and activities — as directed by its members — has a reasonable duty to enforce its rules, particularly when it comes to nonacademic transfers. A bill should recognize that the governing body’s academic rules and residency requirements apply to homeschoolers and private-schoolers. (State associations, such as Virginia’s, have had bans because of worries regarding an inability to check academic status, and that home-schoolers could jump from school to school for athletic purposes.)
Also, I don’t know that this would be in the bill, but home-schoolers and private-schoolers don’t have any protections against getting cut, if the activity has cuts. Perhaps any “reasonable fee” clause should note that those fees are collected upon acceptance into an activity, so there’s no worries that a school is going to take the money and run.
And, regarding emotion, to the public school side, which I am firmly on, with my four kids all in public schools: If the rules are reasonable, and the funding issues are taken care of, then we can’t come back with “your kids are going to take away the dreams of our kids,” the whole argument that a student is going to get tossed aside because of a homeschooler. At this point, at least, the number of homeschoolers (and private-schoolers, under my eligibility proposals) would not overrun the public-school program. And you never know — with a homeschooler or private-schooler participating in a public-school program, perhaps the family might establish a connection with the public schools, rethink their educational plan, and enroll their kids. Probably not, but who knows?