“Tebow Bills” and Access to Public School Sports
- Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Editor's note: This article originally published in June 2012. For current updates on the status of "Tebow Bills," check out The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Nearly everyone has heard about Tim Tebow—homeschooled athlete, genuine Christian, selfless humanitarian. He wowed the college football world as the record-setting quarterback for the Florida Gators, helping his team earn two national championships and becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy. And as the unconventional NFL quarterback for the Denver Broncos (recently traded to the New York Jets), he led his team into this year’s playoffs and defied the odds by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. But off the field Tebow has inspired a different kind of following: a series of laws known as “Tebow bills” that seek to give more homeschooled families access to public school sports programs.
The Controversy Over Equal Sports Access
Though about half of all states now permit homeschooled children some access to public school sports programs, resistance continues in many quarters. Enter Tim Tebow. He has loaned his name to a series of proposed state laws that could move the ball forward in expanding equal access. As a resident of Florida, Tebow benefited from a policy that allowed him to compete on his local high school football team, earning him a full ride to the University of Florida and kicking off a career that has made him an international celebrity.
“Tebow bill” supporters argue it is unfair for homeschooling families to pay equal taxes to support public school sports, only to have their children denied the chance to participate. College athletic scholarships are driven by school sports; thus, worthy homeschoolers are being denied the opportunity to compete for these scholarships simply because their academic classroom is located in their home. Opponents to these laws worry that homeschoolers might take slots away from students who daily attend the public schools and that homeschooled athletes may be difficult to discipline and assess academically. In fact, “Tebow bill” fans note that in states with equal access, none of these fears are realized. Instead, public school sports are enhanced by the presence of homeschooled athletes.
A Typical “Tebow Bill”
“Tebow bills” have been considered over the past three years in states such as Kentucky, Alabama, and Arkansas. Each time the bills have failed to pass, but supporters have vowed to continue the fight. Most recently, in March 2012, Virginia nearly passed its own “Tebow bill”—easily passing one house of the legislature, while meeting a narrow defeat by one vote in the state Senate Education and Health Committee.
The failed Virginia law, HB947, provides a good example of the typical “Tebow bill.” It would have amended the Code of Virginia section 22.1-7.1 as follows:
A. No public school shall become a member of any organization or entity whose purpose is to regulate or govern interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) is receiving home instruction pursuant to § 22.1-254.1, (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two years in compliance with subsection C of § 22.1-254.1, (iii) is entitled to free tuition in a public school pursuant to § 22.1-3, (iv) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current school year, (v) is an amateur who receives no compensation, but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity, (vi) complies with all disciplinary rules applicable to all public high school athletes, and (vii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, parental consents, and physical examinations applicable to all high school athletes. Eligibility shall be limited to participation in interscholastic programs at the school serving the attendance zone in which such student lives.
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