A Senate committee Thursday killed 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 — had already passed the House.
The Senate Education and Health Committee voted largely on party lines, with one Republican voting against the bill. The legislation has been killed for the year, despite Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R)’s support.
Opponents, including some school boards and PTAs, say home-schooled kids would not be required to meet the same academic criteria as public school athletes — attend and pass five classes per day — and that they would have taken team slots from their public school counterparts.
The legislation had been introduced regularly in Virginia since 2005 with little success, but Republican control of the General Assembly this year had supporters hoping the proposal was headed for victory. Some Democrats have opposed the measure because they think it would hurt public schools. Teachers are among the party’s core constituencies.
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 wanted a chance to compete, which they do not have now. “I beg you to give these kids a chance to try out,” he said.
There’s no estimate on the number of Virginia children who would have been affected by the proposal. State officials calculate that nearly 32,000 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 only would have pertained 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.