The Senate Education and Health Committee voted 8 to 7 largely on party lines, with Republican Sen. Harry B. Blevins (Chesapeake), a retired public school principal, voting with Democrats against the bill.
Supporters of the measure, including Republicans, say that parents of home-schooled children pay taxes like other Virginia residents do and that their kids should be allowed to play on school teams.
But opponents, including many Democrats and some school boards and PTAs, argue that home-schooled kids would not be required to meet the same academic criteria as public school athletes, such as successfully attending five classes a day. They also said home-schooled children would take team slots from their public school counterparts.
“Every parent of every child in this room has a choice,” said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), who opposed the bill. “They know what the ramifications are.’’
Hundreds of people crowded into a Senate meeting room while others waited in the hall to be allowed in to watch some of the most contentious debate over education legislation of the General Assembly’s 60-day session.
The same committee also defeated a bill that would have repealed a state law setting the first day of school after Labor Day.
The legislation would have killed the “Kings Dominion law” — a nod to the theme park — that passed nearly 30 years ago at the behest of an industry eager for more late-summer visitors.
Meanwhile, for the fourth day in a row Thursday, the Senate postponed a vote on eliminating tenure-style protections for teachers. McDonnell, the bill’s main supporter, continued to lobby lawmakers to garner enough votes to pass the measure.
In February, the evenly divided Senate rejected a nearly identical bill in a partisan 20 to 18 vote, with two Republicans abstaining.
In the House, delegates gave final approval to a modified version of a controversial proposal that would require women to get external ultrasounds before an abortion and introduced another two-year, $85 billion state budget after Senate Democrats killed two previous spending plans in a bid for more power in the chamber.
Similar bills have been introduced regularly in Virginia since 2005 with little success, but Republicans took control of the General Assembly this year and supporters hoped the proposal would pass.
Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville), who introduced this year’s bill, said he planned to do so again. “They are only asking for a chance to try out,’’ he said.
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.
There’s no official estimate on the number of Virginia children who would have been affected by the proposal. State officials say that nearly 32,000 kids are home-schooled in Virginia, but the association thinks there are twice as many.
The bill would have banned public schools from partnering with the Virginia High School League — which governs high school activities in the state — because it forbids home-schoolers from playing sports or being involved in other programs such as drama, debate and yearbook.
It would have pertained only to high schools because children in lower grades are often able to play at their local public schools.
Home-schooled students would have had 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 would have been allowed to charge reasonable fees or opt out of the program.
Sen. Richard Black (R-Loudoun) said Florida had “the good sense” to allow Tebow to play and become the football star he is today. “I would like to see a Tim Tebow from the state of Virginia,” he said.