'Tebow Bill' Revival Prompts Home-Schoolers Debate

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Times Record News (Wichita Falls, Texas)


After fizzling out twice in House committees in 2013 and 2015, what has been popularly called the "Tebow Bill" has been revived.

Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) is one of two legislators who have filed the bill. The other is Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), who filed companion bill SB 640 to the house version, HB 1323.

The legislation seeks to allow home-schooled students "equal opportunity" to participate in UIL activities and was named after well known athlete Tim Tebow, a former NFL player and now a professional baseball player. Tebow, who was home-schooled, participated in public school sports.

According to HB 1323, "A public school that participates in an activity sponsored by the University Interscholastic League shall provide a home-schooled student, who otherwise meets league eligibility standards, to represent that school in a league activity, with the opportunity to participate in the activity on behalf of the school in the same manner that the school provides the opportunity to participate to students enrolled in the school."

Proponents of the bill contend that home-school families pay taxes that support UIL activities and students who are home-schooled should have the same access.

Those opposed to it say UIL activities should only be open to students who attend public school.

Frank, whose children are home-schooled, said he filed the legislation because tax-paying parents who have chosen to provide for their children's education don't currently have access to group extracurricular activities in the public system.

"For parents of means or parents who live in urban areas who can enroll their kids in private school activities or home-school athletic leagues, this is not as big of a problem.

"But there are thousands of families of limited means and/or who live in rural areas where a decision to home-school means their children miss access to opportunities others have -- opportunities that can lead to broader avenues for higher education and positive social skill development. This doesn't have to be the case."

While some home-school parents support the bill, many say they are wary about the legislation because home-schooled students would be required to pass a standardized test to be UIL-eligible.

HB 1323 relates, "As a condition of eligibility to participate in a league activity during the first six weeks of a school year, a home-schooled student must demonstrate grade-level academic proficiency on any nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instrument, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, California Achievement Test, or Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills."

Afterward, the home-school family must periodically provide written verification to the school to confirm the student is receiving passing grades in each course being taught.

Laurie Stilwell, who has home-schooled her three children, said those requirements "would be an interesting new hoop for home-schoolers to jump through."

"I guess where I come down is, as it stands, the legislation sounds like it would not lead to increased regulation of home-schoolers."

She just hopes, she said, that the Tebow Bill is not a foot in the door when it comes to infringing upon home-schooler freedoms.

"We have the freedom to home-school our kids as we see fit," Stilwell said, and home-school families embrace those freedoms.

"It sounds in theory like a great idea, but if it means increased regulation, I would happily forgo it (UIL participation)."

Frank said he has heard similar worries from the home-school community and emphasizes that participation in UIL, if this bill is passed into law, is voluntary. Home-school parents in Texas are not required to use this option.

He said the requirement to pass a standardized test for UIL participation "is designed to safeguard against abuses in the system where parents might remove their student to 'home school' to avoid 'No Pass, No Play' academic eligibility requirements in public school while still getting to participate in the activity."

"Texas is known throughout the country as a haven for home-school families who want to educate their children in a way that makes sense for them without the need for an all-intrusive body dictating regulations.

"We have home-schooled our boys in Texas nearly their entire lives. I have served on the Texas Home School Coalition board for seven years. I am very aware of the concerns on this front. On this bill, those concerns are misplaced. Again, this is entirely voluntary."

Home-school parent Tara Swagerty, who has three children, has heard similar concerns from local home-school parents who worry UIL participation might open the door to governmental intrusion into a family's private right to educate their children.

Still, she said, "Personally, I think it gives the parents and students who want the opportunity to participate in UIL activities the option to do so. It's true that we have many opportunities as home-schoolers to engage in a variety of sports, arts, science and technology competitions, I feel like this could be an opportunity not only for the home-school community, but for public schools, as well.

"There are many misconceptions on both sides, and building a bridge and working in cooperation to provide the best services to educate all the children should be everyone's goal. These students are our future. Why wouldn't I want whatever is going to bring the best and brightest together to work and showcase that talent?"

Frank said, "We have a great environment for home-schoolers in Texas, but we cannot let the fact that things work very well for a lot of home-school families keep us from making positive changes that give more choice to families and make the environment even better for students who could benefit from these options."

Texas' Tim Tebow Bill isn't the only one of its kind.

According to timtebowbill.com, 31 states allow equal access to home-schoolers either by law or permission from their state athletic association. Twelve states are currently proposing legislation for equal access.

The Texas Home School Coalition reports that Texas leads the nation in the number of home-school families, estimating more than 120,000 families have chosen this method of education and more than 300,000 children are being taught at home.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.

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February 1, 2017


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