The House of Delegates voted 59 to 39 Wednesday in favor of a bill that would allow Virginia’s tens of thousands of home-schooled students to play sports at their local high schools.
The “Tebow bill” — named for Tim Tebow, the starting Denver Broncos quarterback who was home-schooled in Florida but was allowed to play football at his local high school — will now be sent to the Senate.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), has said he will sign the bill. “Home-school parents pay taxes like everybody else,” he said recently. “It’s just fair.”
Opponents, including some school boards and PTAs, say home-schooled kids are not required to meet the same academic criteria as public school athletes — attend and pass five classes per day — and that they would take team slots from their public school counterparts.
“It’s about fairness for all students,’’ said Del. Eileen R. Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) as she urged her colleagues to vote against the bill.
The legislation has been introduced in Virginia since 2005 with little success, but Republican-control of the General Assembly this year has supporters hoping the proposal is headed for victory. Some Democrats have opposed the measure because they think it would hurt public schools. Teachers are among the party’s core consituencies.
Sixteen states permit home-schooled students to play sports at public schools, according to the Purcellville-based Home School Legal Defense Association. Nine others leave the decision to localities or do not have laws prohibiting it.
Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville), who introduced the bill, said the children just want a chance to compete, which they do not have now. “It’s not harder for them. It’s impossible for them.”
There’s no estimate on the number of Virginia children who would benefit from the law. State officials calculate that nearly 32,000 are home-schooled in Virginia, but the association thinks there are twice as many.
The bill bans public schools from partnering with the Virginia High School League — which governs high school activites in the state — because it forbids home-schoolers from playing sports or being involved in other programs such as drama, debate and yearbook. It only pertains to high schools, because children in lower grades are often able to play at their local public schools.
Home-schooled students would have to live in their local school district, try out for teams, and abide by disciplinary and academic criteria just like public school students. But school districts could charge reasonable fees or opt out of the program.
The change would sunset in 2017, and supporters would have to return to the state to reevaluate the situation after four years.