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general assembly 2022

Tebow bill is back, aiming to let homeschooled students play public school sports

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The bill is named after Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled but played public school football.

The “Tebow bill,” which would allow home-schooled students to play public school sports, is back in the House of Delegates.

An old bill that has been unsuccessful throughout the past decade now finds itself part of a Republican movement to grant parents greater authority over their children’s education. The bill cleared a House subcommittee Tuesday on a party-line vote.

It’s named for former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled in Florida but was allowed to play public school football before achieving stardom in college.

The arguments are the same as they’ve been for years: Conservatives say families that home-school pay taxes, and their children are entitled to a tryout. Liberals and most school organizations say there are academic and behavior standards integral to high school sports a home-schooled student cannot meet.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin supports the bill, and the Republican-controlled House of Delegates likely will too. But it will face a challenge in the Senate, which has a slim Democratic majority.

Home-schooling families pay for school fields, gymnasiums the salaries of the coaches, said Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun. The schools belong to all taxpayers.

While there are teams designed for home-schooled kids in greater Richmond, not all corners of the state have such opportunities. In southwest Virginia, there are fewer teams and fewer facilities to host them, said Del. Marie March, R-Floyd, the bill’s sponsor.

“Where I am from in rural southwest Virginia, we don’t really have options,” March said. “I represent some pretty poor counties.”

There are approximately 35 states that allow home-schooled athletes to play for their high school, March said.

But opponents say there are off-the-field requirements high school athletes must meet that home-schooled kids can’t because of the decentralized nature of learning at home. The Virginia High School League requires athletes take five classes and pass five classes to be eligible, and school districts impose their own GPA minimums. A student who commits a serious behavior issue cannot participate either.

The VHSL, Virginia School Boards Association and Virginia Association of School Superintendents all oppose the bill. Representatives from Henrico and Norfolk schools also spoke Tuesday to voice their disagreement.

If students want the benefits of public school, they have to attend the school, said Kathy Burcher, who spoke on behalf of Norfolk City Public Schools.

“At the end of the day, this is about community,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. Many students attend a particular school “because sports or drama or clubs are what draw them there. It’s what makes them succeed. It’s what makes them feel part of a broader whole.”

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