RICHMOND – Down goes Tebow.
The bill, that is.
Legislation to let home schooled students join public school sports teams was defeated Thursday in the Senate Education and Health Committee, where similar bills have failed in previous years.
The perennial proposal from Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, would achieve that by prohibiting public schools from joining an interscholastic governing body, such as the Virginia High School League, that bars home schoolers from public school sports.
Bell’s HB 1442 passed the House of Delegates this year, as did a similar measure he sponsored last year before its defeat in the Senate.
It was tackled again in a Senate committee, failing on an 8-7 vote when Republican Sen. Harry Blevins of Chesapeake, a retired high school principal, joined with the Democratic minority on the panel in opposition to the bill.
That type of legislation has been dubbed a “Tim Tebow” bill, a nod to the NFL quarterback who was allowed to participate in public school athletics as a Florida home schooler.
Before the vote, a procession of home school students and advocates urged the panel to approve the bill.
“All I’m asking you is to give me and all the other home schoolers is to simply have the opportunity to play sports,” pleaded Eli Marcellus, a 14-year old boy from Goochland County.
Also testifying was 19-year old Josh Henderson, a Suffolk teen and professional baseball prospect signed to a playing contract by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Henderson, who was home schooled, spoke of missed time playing with friends he grew up with because of his school situation.
“Those days you can’t get back,” he told senators. “I’m pretty sure you all know days you wish that you could have back.”
When addressing the committee, his father Steve Henderson explained that he and his wife educated the two youngest of their six boys at home because it was the best choice for them, not a knock against public schools.
He made the case that parents and students contribute to the state and thus shouldn’t be denied access to services.
“We pay our taxes, too,” the elder Henderson said. “There’s no difficulty in taking our money.”
“You pay taxes that also go to purchase an F-22 fighter, that doesn’t mean you get to fly it,” fired back Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw.
The Fairfax County Democrat said parents “knew the ground rules when you opted to home school your kids” and made that choice.
Opposing the measure were representatives of education interest groups including the Virginia Parent Teacher Association, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia High School League and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.
They said creating special dispensation for home schooled students is unfair to public students who have to meet course load and other standards home schoolers don’t face.
Piggybacking on the tax argument, VEA president Meg Gruber said she, too, pays taxes.
“I wasn’t blessed by the Lord to have children. Should I have a percentage rebate?” she said. “Come on, that’s not a good argument. We pay our taxes for the betterment of all of our citizens.”
Bell closed the debate with a brief final appeal, telling senators that each year 18-year olds are being deprived of a chance they’ll never have to play sports with their public school friends.
He has argued 29 other states already allow home schoolers to join public school teams and said his bill would give local school divisions that option.
- Julian Walker, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot