Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and a Republican-dominated Senate have given new life to an effort to pass legislation that would give permission to students who are homeschooled to play on the athletic teams of their local schools.

There are three bills in the Virginia legislature that are modeled after a Florida law informally known as the “Tim Tebow law,” which was passed in 1996 and gave the homeschooled Tebow a chance to play for local private and public schools on his way to an NFL career.

Similar legislation has failed in Virginia in previous years. But now Republicans control the governorship and the General Assembly; the recent change in control in the Senate makes it more likely that some form of this law could pass in the state. McDonnell said earlier this month that he would support it.
He expressed the view of those who support it by saying on a radio show: “Home-school parents pay taxes like everybody else. It’s just fair.”

But opponents don’t see it that way.

The Virginia Association of School Superintendents is opposed, as is the Virginia Education Association, which represents more than 60,000 public school teachers. Another foe is the chairman of the House Education Committee, a Republican from Virginia Beach named Robert Tata, who was a successful high school coach and a University of Virginia athlete who played briefly for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, the Associated Press reported.

Tata opposes allowing homeschooled students to play on local sports teams in part because he worries that coaches will game the system by recruiting top players. Other opponents say that allowing homeschoolers to play for local teams would devastate eligibility and participation requirements and would be unfair to full-time students and teachers.

The fact that a family pays taxes that support public education does not automatically mean they are entitled to try out for a place on a high school sports team, the AP quoted Ken Tilley, executive director of the Virginia High School League, as saying. The league is the body that sanctions public interscholastic sports and other activities in Virginia.

“There are 13 individual eligibility requirements for participation for our programs, and under Delegate [Rob] Bell’s bill, the homeschoolers would meet only six and part of a seventh,” he was quoted as saying by AP.

Opening the door to homeschoolers based on the argument that their families pay taxes that support public education could create pressure to accommodate on-line students. This could be complicated because a student in, for example, Texas, can be a student at a Florida online high school.

Tebow’s family was living in Florida in the mid-1990s and his evangelical parents homeschooled him and his siblings. In the early days of the homeschooling movement, students who learned at home were not allowed to participate in athletics at their local public schools. After Florida passed the law, at least 14 other states did the same thing.

About 1.5 million American children were home-schooled in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Education Department.

Here’s what Bell’s legislation, HB947 would do:

Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) is receiving home instruction, (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two years, (iii) is entitled to free tuition in a public school, (iv) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current school year, (v) is an amateur who receives no compensation, but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity, (vi) complies with all disciplinary rules applicable to all public high school athletes, and (vii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, parental consents, and physical examinations applicable to all high school athletes. The bill allows such students to be charged reasonable fees for participation.

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