RICHMOND, Va. — The so-called Tebow bill – legislation that would allow home-schooled children to play varsity sports for teams at public schools they choose not to attend – has been thrown for a loss in Virginia's Senate.
Del. Rob Bell's bill failed to emerge from the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 7-8 vote Thursday as scores of home-school children and their parents waited for hours in a cramped legislative meeting room.
Advocates for the legislation argued that the taxes they pay that support public education entitles children whose parents opt to teach them at home entitles them to high school interscholastic teams for organized sports such as soccer, basketball, baseball and football.
Opponents, however, said families had a choice to enroll their children in public schools where they have a right to try out for sports teams and that children schooled at home don't have to sit in classrooms all day and be subject to the same testing as those in local schools.
"You knew the ground rules when you opted to home-school your kids. You made that choice and that is your choice to make," Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw told Steve Henderson of Suffolk, who home schooled two of his children.
"I understand, sir, and what I would say is, we pay our taxes, too, and there's no difficulty in taking our money," Henderson replied.
"Your taxes also purchase an F-22 jet fighter, but that doesn't give you the right to fly it," Saslaw shot back.
Steve Henderson's home-schooled son, Josh Henderson, excelled at baseball at a Baptist school in Suffolk and is a 16th-round 2012 Major League draft pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers who leaves in a few days for spring camp in Arizona. His appeal was simpler.
"I just want you all to give these guys a shot," he said, gesturing toward about a dozen young children queued in the committee room aisle awaiting a chance to speak.
The bill is informally named after Tim Tebow, the New York Jets quarterback who was home-schooled in Florida before he won a Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida. While it has enlisted emotional support from home-school households – many of them conservative – it has generated fierce opposition from public educators, including organizations representing teachers, administrators, school boards and superintendents.
The Virginia High School League, the statewide sanctioning body for interscholastic competition at 313 publicly supported high schools, spearheaded the opposition. Students who participate in sports or other events governed by VHSL must meet 13 separate eligibility requirements, the first of which is to "be a regular bona fide student in good standing of the school which he (or) she represents."
"Home schoolers and their advocates have testified that they're not to be treated differently, they don't expect preferential treatment, that they agree to meet the same requirements as public school students, but they have chosen a different education path and I urge you not to create a small, elite group with separate and lesser standards," said VHSL executive director Ken Tilley.
Virginia is among 31 states where only children enrolled in a public school may participate in the school's competitive interscholastic organizations. Twenty-nine allow some level of participation by those who are not full-time students.