RICHMOND — After nearly a decade of debate, some Virginia legislators are hopeful homeschooled students soon will be allowed to participate in public school sports.
House Bill 63, proposed by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, progressed through a House of Delegates subcommittee earlier this week and likely will be heard by the House Education Committee next week.
This year’s version of the bill is identical to those that have failed by one vote in the Senate Education and Health Committee in recent years, Bell said, but there is reason for optimism this time around.
“For several years, it has passed the House and been defeated in the Senate,” Bell said. “The Senate has always been a trouble, [but] we’ve got some changes in membership … so we’re hopeful we can get it out of the Senate this year.”
Two senators who repeatedly voted against the legislation have vacated their positions.
However, the scale may have tipped in favor of the Democrats, who have traditionally opposed homeschool sports access, when Jennifer Wexton won Virginia’s 33rd Senate District race in a special election earlier this week to fill the seat vacated by now-Attorney General Mark Herring.
Though Democratic control of the Senate potentially could help determine which legislators are appointed to the Education and Health Committee, Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, said the issue extends beyond partisanship.
“Decisions have consequences, and when a parent decides to homeschool their child, they are taking that child out of the public school and … away from all of the extracurricular benefits that a public school offers,” Miller said. “I don’t think that a homeschooled student should have the ability to pick and choose which activities of public school they’re going to participate in.”
Right now, homeschoolers don’t have extracurricular choices because the Virginia High School League, which oversees all high school sports in the state, prevents homeschoolers from doing so.
Miller, a member of the Education and Health Committee, previously served as the Senate representative to the VHSL. He said he thinks HB63 would be unfair to students enrolled in the public school system because homeschoolers would need to meet fewer eligibility requirements to participate.
HB63, which is nicknamed the “Tebow bill” after the former NFL quarterback who was allowed to play in public school athletics as a Florida homeschooler, would prohibit a Virginia public school from being a member of the VHSL unless the school alters its eligibility regulations to include homeschooled students.
Such a resolution would make Virginia the 24th state nationwide to give homeschoolers at least limited sports access, according to the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
James Angel, a spokesman for Virginia Homeschoolers, said he thinks the issue comes down to equal opportunity.
“We see this as a basic measure of fairness,” Angel said. “There’s really no good reason why homeschooled kids should not be allowed to partake in the activities that their parents, who are taxpayers, paid for.”
Angel said he thinks the bill might finally have enough support.
“We’re optimistic that this is going to be the year,” he said. “It’s an issue that comes up year after year, and sooner than later, it’s going to get through.”
More than 29,000 students statewide were being homeschooled as of December, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
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