RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday vetoed a pair of bills intended to allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports.
The legislation, modeled after similar laws across the country, is known as a “Tebow bill” for Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner who was home-schooled in Florida and allowed to play football at his local high school.
Virginia Republicans have been pushing versions of the Tebow bill since 2005 — so long that students who might have benefited from the bill that year are now old enough to be home-schooling children of their own, said Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Albemarle), who sponsored one of this year’s bills.
Similar legislation made it to the governor’s desk last year, but McAuliffe (D) vetoed it.
Bell and Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-Buckingham) sponsored identical bills this year to open public school sports to children schooled at home. Supporters have said that the parents of those children pay taxes that support those sports and should have the right to opt into athletics even if they opt out of the broader academic program.
Bell, who is running in the 2017 race for attorney general, said he was “very disappointed” by the veto. He expressed hope that the House and Senate will override the governor, but said the bills did not pass either chamber with wide enough margins.
“Everyone thinks this will happen one year, but every year that goes by there’s another group of teenagers that don’t get to play sports with their friends,” Bell said.
Garrett, who is running for Congress, said opposition to the bills stemmed from anti-Christian discrimination, given that many of the families who opt for home-schooling do so for religious reasons.
“I haven’t heard so much rhetoric about ‘those kids’ being different since the civil rights movement,” said Garrett, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Rep. Robert Hurt (R-Va.). “This really is about equal treatment and equal access.”
Opponents have said it would be wrong to let children compete in sports without requiring them to meet the same academic and disciplinary standards required of students in public schools. McAuliffe echoed those concerns in a statement announcing that he had vetoed the bills.
“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the statement said.