For the third year in a row, Virginia lawmakers have passed a bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in public high school sports.
Republican Del. Rob Bell from Charlottesville, Virginia, introduced the "Tebow bill" on Jan. 2. The legislation passed the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates Jan. 24 in a 60-38 vote. It then went to the Virginia Senate, where it passed 22-18 Monday.
The bill was nicknamed for former NFL star Tim Tebow, who played football for a public high school in Florida while he was being home-schooled. Florida state statute allows home school students to "participate at the public school to which the student would be assigned," according to that school's policies, provided they meet the "home education program" standards established by the state.
According to Bell's legislation in Virginia: "No public school shall become a member of any organization or entity whose purpose is to regulate or govern interscholastic programs." One such entity is the Virginia Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, of which about 400 Virginia schools are a part, according to the organization's website.
The bill limits home-schooled students' participation to school districts in which they already live, as long as the school district is a member of the VIAAA. Students must demonstrate "evidence of progress" for at least two academic years, and adhere to "all disciplinary rules" that public school students are expected to abide by.
Bell told the Associated Press that his bill would keep parents from having to choose between their children being able to play sports and getting the education they want: "If you are a parent and your kid doesn't fit into the public school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go homeschooling, except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options."
It's the third year in a row that legislation intended to allow homeschool students to play public school sports has been introduced in the Virginia legislature. Two more bills were proposed in 2015 and then again in 2016. Each bill passed both houses of the Virginia legislature in their respective years, but Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe ultimately vetoed the pieces of legislation.
McAuliffe argued at those times that opening public school sports to home-schooled students would "upend Virginia's extracurricular framework and codify academic inequality in interscholastic competition."
Bell said his new bill wouldn't force any school to open their athletic programs to home-schoolers. Instead, it would simply give schools the option to allow them.
Meanwhile, Democratic state Sen. Chap Petersen from Fairfax argued the legislation needs to apply to every school or no schools at all.
"The bottom line is, once Virginia High School League changes its policy, every school division is going to have to match up with it, because nobody is going to want to compete with half a loaf," Petersen said, according to the AP. "You can't have one set of rules down-state, one set of rules in Northern Virginia and one set of rules in Hampton Roads."
According to a provision in Bell's proposed bill: "Nothing ... shall require a local school board to establish a policy permitting participation in interscholastic programs at its schools by students who reside in the school division and receive home instruction."
"The bottom line is, if we're going to have this, it's got to be a state-wide policy. It can't be halfway," Petersen added.
But as the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers pointed out after McAuliffe vetoed the 2015 Tebow legislation, "this bill does not mandate school divisions to do anything; rather, it simply allows them to decide at each locality if they’d like to allow homeschoolers to try out."
The "Tebow bill" now goes to McAuliffe, who is expected to veto the legislation.
Texas lawmakers are also considering a "Tebow bill" after Republican state Sen. Van Taylor from Plano introduced the legislation Jan. 27.
Taylor proposed similar legislation in 2015, which passed 26-5 in the Texas state Senate. The bill never came up for a vote in the Texas House, KXAN-TV reported. If passed, Taylor's bill would impact more than 350,000 students who want to participate in sports, robotics or debate.
The Texas bill would extend to every public school whose students participate in extracurricular activities, sponsored by the University Interscholastic League, without giving each district the choice of whether to allow home-schooled students.
"The home-school parents pay their taxes and they should have the right to be able to access the [University Interscholastic] system to give their children a great educational opportunity and experience,” Taylor said.
Sharla Malone from Plano homeschools her two daughters. One of them, 14-year-old Marin, currently plays volleyball in a home-school league in Lubbock — more than 300 miles from where the family lives — and in a club league in Plano, KXAS-TV reported. Marin said she has always "thought of what it would be like to play" volleyball in a public school league, adding that she would like to continue playing in college.
Twenty-five other states currently have laws that allow home-schooled students to participate in public school sports, either by the state requiring it or by allowing schools to choose whether they will allow non-traditional students. Another six states allow home-schooled students to play sports, with certain stipulations, according to TimTebowBill.com, which advocates for home-schoolers.