Opinion: Governor Should Sign 'Tebow Bill'

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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)


In the next week or so, Gov. Terry McAuliffe will almost certainly veto the so-called Tim Tebow bill for the third year in a row. Once again, he'll probably say he's defending public high school athletes from unfair competition.

And for the third year in a row, he'll be wrong.

The Tebow bill (HB 1578), which passed the Virginia State Senate 22-18 Monday, was conservatively crafted by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville.

It doesn't require school systems to do anything. Instead, it gives them the option of allowing some of the state's 8,000 home-schooled high school students to play varsity sports at their local school.

Bell's bill is nicknamed for the former University of Florida quarterback who was home-schooled and played football at a public high school. Tebow has campaigned nationally for states to adopt laws that would let other home-schooled kids likewise have the chance to participate in varsity athletics.

So far, 29 states have adopted Tebow bills. Some passed with bipartisan support, but not in Richmond, where everything seems to break down along party lines.

Bell's bill attracted just one Democratic vote in the Senate - from Lynwood Lewis, who represents the Eastern Shore and a portion of Norfolk.

Providing every high school student in Virginia, including the nearly 1,000 being home-schooled in South Hampton Roads, with as much opportunity as possible shouldn't be a partisan issue.

Bill opponents say there are athletic associations in Virginia that allow home-school kids to participate in varsity sports. That's true, but many counties have no such associations and across much of the state, there are no home-school football or field hockey teams.

Current restrictions force many home-school kids to choose between the education they want and participating on a varsity athletic team.

Many parents home-school their kids for religious reasons. Others do it because they think their kids will learn more at home.

All are required to register with their local school systems and many must even provide a curriculum plan .

Studies show that home-schooled kids perform better academically in college than children educated in traditional schools.

I have relatives home-schooling their children in Virginia and know the rigorous academic regimen they follow.

Bell has sponsored a variation of the Tebow bill since 2005, and compromised greatly this year to try to attract Democratic support.

The current bill doesn't require local school boards to allow home-school kids to play for their hometown schools; it just gives them an option to allow it. Doubtless, many will decline to do so.

If a school board says yes, home-schooled kids are required to pass standardized tests and other academic requirements for at least two consecutive years to be eligible.

Kids would also be required to play for the school in their home district, meaning a home-schooled student in the Berkley section of Norfolk would have to play at Lake Taylor. No exceptions allowed.

Public school advocates complain that would lead to recruiting, but that's like a soft drink manufacturer decrying the nation's child obesity rate.

Many prominent public school athletes already transfer in search of better athletic programs.

Public schools would be allowed to charge home-schooled students "reasonable fees" to participate in athletics, a provision that hardly seems fair since their parents are already paying taxes.

There is also no requirement that home-schooled kids play for public schools. And, as Bell has noted, the vast majority probably won't.

This bill, he said, "would simply allow those home-schoolers who are interested a chance to try out."

If all that's not enough compromise, the Tebow bill would sunset in 2022, meaning that after five years, the General Assembly and governor would have to approve it all over again.

That provision makes this not a Tebow bill so much as it is a Tebow experiment.

No harm will be done by allowing a few home-school kids to play basketball and soccer at their public schools.

Gov. McAuliffe should sign the bill.

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February 15, 2017


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