Last week when I wrote about Delegate Rob Bell’s HB 1578 aka the Tebow Bill passing the Virginia House of Delegates, some commenters had questions about allowing homeschooled student access to the public school sports programs even though homeschooling has been a legal educational choice for almost 40 years.
In that original post (see Rob Bell’s ‘Tebow Bill’ Passes the House, Now Moves to Senate), it was noted that 29 states already have a Tebow Bill in place. In fact, Florida’s legislation that allowed a youthful Tim Tebow to excel with his local high school team was passed in 1996, long before he was involved, so they have 20 years of experience working with the homeschool community. Because of Tebow’s participation, that school system can lay claim to a Heisman Trophy winner.
Rob Bell’s bill requires that the student be in compliance with the homeschool statue § 22.1-254.1(C) for two years before applying to compete at the local high school. Kids taught at home must take an approved standardized test every year and submit it by August 1 to their local public school superintendent as proof of academic progress.
The test must show:
(i) evidence that the child has attained a composite score in or above the fourth stanine on any nationally normed standardized achievement test, or an equivalent score on the ACT, SAT, or PSAT test; or,
(ii) an evaluation or assessment which the division superintendent determines to indicate that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress, including but not limited to:
(a) an evaluation letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a person with a master’s degree or higher in an academic discipline, having knowledge of the child’s academic progress, stating that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; or
(b) a report card or transcript from a community college or college, college distance learning program, or home-education correspondence school.
Besides providing evidence of academic progress, the two-year portion of the law assures that a public school student who fails out cannot simply declare himself a homeschooler and then try out.
Perhaps the feeling that “you chose to homeschool so your kids cannot now decide they want to play public school sports” — I believe one commenter called it the a la carte menu — is overplayed by some who may think of homeschoolers as a small, cocooned sub-group that has little interaction with the community. Nothing could be further from the truth for most kids who learn at home.
Those concerned about school spirit overestimate the difference in being a homeschooler. All sorts of students are allowed in the public schools, among them dual enrolled and governor’s school, who are allowed to try out for sports. However, a homeschooler who is in good standing cannot. While more urban areas may have lots of options for homeschool students to play, through a co-op for example, in rural areas the local high school is often literally the “only game in town.”
Homeschooling has changed dramatically. In 1990, only 3,000 Commonwealth students were taught at home, and for many parents it was seen as an in-or-out decision — you took your kids out and they never went back, which was my family’s decision with our two children who are now university graduates. (There is more about my decision to homeschool in the article, “Where it all began … blazing new trails,” in my “Back in the Homeschool Classroom” series.)
Last year, some 33,000 Virginia students received their education at home. Some have attended public schools in the past, and some will do so in the future. Homeschooled kids are already in the community. They are neighbors and friends with public school students, attend church together, date each other, work together, play Little League together, and cheer at sports games together. In at least half the state’s school districts, such as Albemarle and Fluvanna, they are allowed to take classes.
Parents who choose to educate their children at home pay the same taxes as everyone else. There is no tax relief, and no tax credits (only three states — Illinois, Minnesota, and Louisiana — allow tax credits). Parents cannot write off the cost of purchasing curricula.
State versus local decision
Since 1913, the Virginia High School League (VHSL), based out of Charlottesville, has governed high school sports in the Commonwealth, and they have chosen to exclude homeschooled students which is the reason for the Tebow Bill.
One commenter wondered where in the “conservative political philosophy or in the Republican Creed is Big Government intended to intrude in local communities in matters such as this,” and added, “Just another hypocritical brick in the wall.” Not to worry; Tebow doesn’t allow Big Government to step all over the local guys, who would make the final decision — although that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of hypocrisy to go around in today’s politics nor plenty of overreaching from Richmond to localities.
Homeschoolers would pay their way
The bill makes it clear that participating homeschoolers would not expect a free ride. Reasonable fees may be charged including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, and equipment.
Virginia High School League
VHSL’s Mission Statement would appear to somewhat leave the door open for homeschoolers: “The Virginia High School League is an alliance of Virginia’s public and approved non-boarding, non-public high schools that promotes education, leadership, sportsmanship, character and citizenship for students by establishing and maintaining high standards for school activities and competitions.” Why not allow homeschoolers to fall under the “approved non-public high school” category? At their October 2016 meeting, VHSL discussed homeschool players, noting last year’s legislation had passed through the General Assembly and, perhaps anticipating its reintroduction this year, began laying the groundwork for the possibility of accepting them.
Over the weekend Bearing Drift’s Scott Lee also addressed the Tebow Bill, heard at the 17-minute mark on this week’s podcast, and touches on a side of this issue that is usually heard only in whispers on the sidelines … the elitist mentality, he said, of those who look down their noses at homeschoolers. In no uncertain terms he quipped, “You pay but you can’t play,” and noted there are objections to HB 1578 because some don’t think it’s fair or right to allow access to those outside the school system. He was on a roll and had plenty more thoughts as he opined on the issue.
The bill is waiting to cross over to the Senate side of the capitol where Republicans, who are usually friendly to this legislation, are in the majority. If it passes there, it will then once again land on Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe’s desk where it was struck down with his veto pen in 2015 and 2016. After trying for 12 years, all eyes will be watching to see if this will be the year when the Tebow Bill finally becomes law in Virginia.