By Pia Talwar
Capital News Service
RICHMOND—Home-schooled students in Virginia will have to wait until next year to see if they can participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local high school. That’s because the Senate Education and Health Committee killed the so-called “Tebow Bill.”
The bill, which had passed the House of Delegates, failed on a 7-8 vote last week in the Senate committee. Seven Republicans on the panel voted for the bill, while seven Democrats and one Republican voted against it.
House Bill 947, proposed by Delegate Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) would have allowed thousands of Virginia’s home-schooled students to play sports at their local high schools. It is named after Tim Tebow, the NFL quarterback who as a home-schooler played for a high school team in Florida.
At a hearing on the bill, many home-schooled students supported the measure. They described how they played basketball with Amateur Athletic Union teams in the summer but couldn’t join those teammates in high school sports.
The bill was a top priority for the Family Foundation, which seeks to apply “founding principles and faith to policy and culture.” The foundation says that families of home-schoolers pay taxes to fund public schools and so the children should be allowed to participate in activities at those schools.
The bill sought to require participating home-schoolers to meet the school’s disciplinary requirements and pay any fees associated with participation. Local school systems could also add other academic or disciplinary requirements.
The legislation had been amended with a “sunset” provision, which would require the General Assembly to act on it again in 2017.
Sixteen states allow home-schoolers to participate in sports at public schools, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. Nine other states have left the decision to localities or do not have laws prohibiting it.
Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) supported the measure.
“The bill would allow taxpayers to have their children involved in a product they are paying a great deal for,” he said.
But Sen. Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) disagreed.
“Choices have consequences,” Saslaw said. “Every parent that chooses to home-school a kid knows what the ground rules are. We didn’t just make them up.”
Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Bumpass) compared the bill to freedom of choice: “If you are pro-choice, you should support this bill, because this bill is about allowing parents to have choices. This bill is about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.”
Garrett said his children do not attend public school but should be allowed to “play sports at the school where we pay taxes.”
Sen. Dick Black (R-13), the only member of Loudoun's delegation on the committee voted in support reporting the bill to the full Senate.