“Tebow Bills” and Access to Public School Sports
- Antony Barone Kolenc
- 2013 16 Oct
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.
B. Reasonable fees may be charged to such students to cover the costs of participation in such interscholastic programs.
As you can see, this bill has anticipated many of the objections of “Tebow bill” opponents. It essentially prevents public schools from joining any state or local athletic association that excludes homeschoolers. And, to its credit, the bill does not add new government intrusions into the lives of homeschoolers. The bill breaks down as follows.
Subsections (i) and (ii) require that the homeschooled athlete have a two-year track record of complying with Virginia’s homeschooling statute. Unfortunately, this puts new homeschoolers at a disadvantage for two years. Subsections (iii), (iv), and (v) make certain that the homeschooler is eligible for public school and is neither too old nor a professional athlete. Subsections (vi) and (vii) ensure the homeschooled athlete will comply with the same rules as public school students, especially in the area of discipline. The final sentence of Section A limits access to the homeschooler’s local school district—a measure designed to avoid unfair competition by coaches who might try to recruit outstanding homeschooled athletes from outside the school district. Finally, Section B permits schools to charge homeschoolers “reasonable fees” to cover costs related to participation.
To Sue or Not to Sue
Families living in a state without equal access may be tempted to sue to secure the right of their child to participate in public school sports. Don’t do it. Over the past fifteen years several families have tried this tactic with little success. The reason for the failure is simple: though it is unfair, school districts can point to what the courts consider “rational” reasons for excluding homeschoolers. Redirect your time, money, and efforts to more productive avenues.
For instance, even where a state may not have a “Tebow bill” on the books, local school boards may be able to authorize your child’s participation in that district. Make connections with your school board and bring a well-written petition. Additionally, in recent years there have been efforts in several states to pass statewide rules that would expand sports access for homeschoolers.1 Organize or renew efforts to petition your state legislators to bring a “Tebow bill” to your state. Finally, find opportunities for your homeschooled athletes to participate in sports right now. There may already be homeschool or local recreational sports leagues that can give your children the chance they need to excel and prove their eligibility for a collegiate athletic scholarship.
1. The following fifteen states have considered such bills in the recent past: AL, AR, GA, HI, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, NJ, NY, OK, SC, TN, TX. You can also find a good summary of the status of state equal access laws (updated May 2011) on the HSLDA website.
Antony B. Kolenc (J.D., University of Florida College of Law) is an attorney, author, and speaker. He and his wife have homeschooled their five children for over a decade. He is author of The Chronicles of Xan historical fiction trilogy, as well as several legal articles. Learn more about him at www.antonykolenc.com.
Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
Publication date: October 16, 2013