Rob Bell’s Tebow Bill Passes the House, Now Moves to Senate

Carrying the Tebow Bill is old hat now for Delegate Rob Bell. After all, this marks the twelfth year that he has worked for passage of the homeschool bill that would open doors for homeschoolers to participate in sports and extracurricular activities at their local high schools.

On Tuesday, Bell’s HB 1578 aka the Tebow Bill passed the House of Delegates on a vote of 60-38. It now moves to the Senate.

Those who voted and how:

YEAS–Adams, Anderson, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Holcomb, Hugo, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Miyares, Morefield, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker–60.

NAYS–Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Ingram, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Mullin, Murphy, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yost–38.

ABSTENTIONS–0.

NOT VOTING–Austin–1.

On Wednesday Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie wrote on Facebook, “Good work by the House of Delegates passing the Tebow Bill. Now we just need a Governor who will sign it.”

Indeed. The Tebow Bill passed both chambers of the General Assembly in 2015 and 2016 only to have it vetoed by Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe.

As a homeschool mom for 16 years whose children have now graduated from college, this bill interests me because of those who are still educating their children at home and could benefit from it.

Background
Since 2005, Bell (R-Albemarle) has carried the bill named after University of Florida and NFL star quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy Winner Tim Tebow who was, himself, homeschooled. The need for such a bill is because the Virginia High School League prohibits homeschoolers from participating in high school sports.

The bill would expand options for homeschool students by allowing them to participate in sports and extracurricular activities at their local high schools, much as the homeschooled Tebow was allowed to play football with his local public high school team in Florida. For some, it’s a way to participate in team sports that may not be available through their homeschool associations. For others, it may be a means to earn a college sports scholarship to help pay for higher education.

Twenty-nine states already allow homeschoolers to play high school sports. In Virginia, that option is not available and, while some homeschool families are not interested in public school access, the Tebow Bill would provide a choice for families who are interested.

Bell wrote in the Home Educators Association of Virginia newsletter explaining his interest in enacting the Tebow Bill:

What stops homeschoolers from playing? Individual schools can set their own internal rules, but when the time comes for the actual game, the competition is governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL). The VHSL has rules that effectively bar homeschoolers form playing, including the “take five, pass five” rule that requires students to take and pass certain classes in school. The VHSL prohibition applies even to those schools that want homeschoolers on their teams.

Opponents of the “Tebow Bill” claim that a student can’t truly represent the school unless he attends classes in the building, or that it is unfair to have different rules for different students. Some fear that the homeschooler will take “a slot,” thereby bumping another student from the team.

But we live here too! These arguments miss the point. Homeschool students are being legally educated pursuant to Virginia law. Their parents pay taxes that support the school. Besides, not every athlete “walks the halls” of the school — dual-enrolled public school students who take classes at a community college can play sports even if they never set foot inside the high school. It is only homeschoolers who are excluded.

How do we fix this? For several years, I have proposed the “Tebow Bill,” which would give local schools the authority to let homeschoolers play. To keep things fair, it includes requirements that students pass their homeschooling tests, live in the school district, and follow all the rules of the team. There would be no reserved slots or quotas. This option is not for everyone, and the “Tebow Bill” would not require homeschoolers to join high school sports — it would simply allow those homeschoolers who are interested to try out. From its beginning, the homeschool movement has emphasized providing choices and empowering parents, and this bill gives parents an option.

Although some homeschoolers worry that a “Tebow Bill” would open the door to new homeschooling regulations, I believe this is no longer the primary challenge for homeschoolers. In the last two decades, homeschooling has expanded eight-fold in Virginia, and has become a truly mainstream education choice. Many homeschool students access local schools for “partial enrollment” classes or extra-curricular programs not governed by the VHSL. All of these have made homeschooling more accessible to parents, and none have led to new homeschool regulations.

Rob Bell’s attentiveness to the homeschooling community comes from growing up in a family where his mother, Mary Bell, educated his brother and sister at home. In 1984 when homeschooling was still in its infancy, his mother was one of the home education pioneers who went before the General Assembly and testified in support of Virginia’s first homeschooling law.

His work for home educators goes beyond the Tebow Bill. In 2004 he “patroned a bill to expand Virginia’s homeschooling law to cover those parents without a college degree.  Although it passed the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, Gov. Mark Warner vetoed the bill.  In 2006, Rob was again able to successfully patron the bill through the House and the Senate. Gov. Tim Kaine signed HB1340 into law. For this work, Rob received the “Outstanding Leadership in Advancing the Rights of Home-Educating Parents” award from the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV),” as noted on his website.

The bill will now be sent to the Senate where Republicans, who generally are supporters of homeschool legislation, hold the majority. If it passes there, the next stop will be the governor’s desk where everyone will be watching to see if he vetoes it a third time.

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