RICHMOND - The House of Delegates voted 56-43 today to allow home-school students to play sports at local public schools.
The so-called "Tebow" bill, named after football star Tim Tebow who was home-schooled but played public high school ball in Florida, also applies to other interscholastic activities.
"I think it's a matter of simple fairness to homeschoolers," said Del. Robert B. Bell, R-Charlottesville, the bill's sponsor. "The students are complying with all the rules that Virginia sets out for them -- their parents are paying taxes and all they're asking for is an opportunity to try out."
Specifically, the bill, HB1442, would bar public schools from joining any organization governing interscholastic programs that would prevent various students from joining, including those who are homeschooled, those who have shown progress for two consecutive years, those who are younger than 19, or those who are playing for no compensation other than the enjoyment of the sport. The bill does allow the students to be charged a fee for participation.
The bill passed out of the Education committee 13-8 on Monday, and then passed through the House this afternoon.
Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, who has spent some time working on school-related issues with the Appropriations committee, voted in favor of the bill.
"I have a lot of homeschooled students and their parents [in my region] saying, 'Well, we pay taxes, why shouldn't they be allowed?,'" he said in an interview with VCTA Cable Reports. "I'm sort of a master to my constituents, and I have to consider that."
Del. Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, said in an email that he agreed that if the parents are paying taxes, they should be able to use the public schools' services if they wish to.
Del. Daun S. Hester, D-Norfolk, however, voted against the bill. "When parents make a choice for the education of their children, they understand the rules that go with that, and participating in public school activities is not one of those options as a homeschooled child," she said. "That change only opens the door for further changes."
A representative from Richmond public schools declined to comment. Representatives from the Virginia High School League, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia PTA and the Virginia School Boards Association did not respond for comment, but they have spoken against the bill in the past, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Legislation related to the "Tebow" bill is pending in the Senate. The House approved similar legislation during last year's session, but it did not pass in the Senate.