The Senate Education and Health Committee this morning voted 7-8 (see vote) to defeat HB 947, a bill patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), which would have removed a significant barrier preventing home school students from trying out for public school sports teams. Senator Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) joined the seven Democrats on the committee in opposition to the bill.
The bill, which became known in the media as the “Tebow bill,” was a top legislative priority for The Family Foundation. More than half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports, but at this point Virginia will not join that league.
Delegate Bell eloquently presented the bill, anticipating opponents’ arguments and masterfully debunking them. He explained that homeschoolers were not looking for a guaranteed spot on the team, but rather the ability to tryout. They were not looking to school shop, but rather tryout for their local high school team. They were not looking to participate for free, but rather pay any expenses the coach deemed appropriate. Additionally, the bill included the right for localities to add requirements of their own as well as a four year sunset. Nothing in the bill was an earthshaking change.
Opponents claimed homeschoolers want it both ways and that they know the rules when they make their choice. But Senator Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach) countered that some students are caught in a trap of staying in public school just to play sports when their educational needs are better served in a home school environment.
After his presentation, numerous homeschoolers testified to their own academic prowess and athletic ability. One boy spoke of his participation in rowing. He rows with his team at many regattas, but is barred from rowing with his teammates when VHSL facilitates the competition. He expressed his frustration with his “second class citizenship.” A public school student from Godwin High School in Henrico County, who plays on the junior varsity basketball team, told committee members that there was a shortage of students interested in playing girls basketball, so she and her teammates had to recruit players. She said that homeschooler participation would be a welcomed addition.
However, the educrat establishment (Virginia Education Association, Virginia High School League, Virginia School Board Association, Virginia Superintendents Association, the Parent Teacher Association, etc.) turned out in full force to oppose the bill. Perhaps the most enlightening comment came from the PTA. Its lobbyist stated that 98.4 percent of high schoolers are public school students, which would mean 1.6 percent of students are either in private school or homeschooled. While that number seems a bit inflated, if so, it’s ironic that so much panic has ensued from the public education lobby over a mere 1.6 percent of students!
The good news is that this is the farthest in the legislative process that this bill has traveled. For the first time, the bill passed out of the House of Delegates and made it to the Senate. We must continue to press forward, educating others on the fairness and importance of this legislation. The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, yet continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are homeschooled. This discriminatory practice must end. Just as we said with school choice, the day will come when homeschool kids are treated fairly and allowed to try out for sports teams!