Virginia's 'Tebow Law' Debate Draws Attention to Homeschooled Athletes

Legislators in Virginia are working to pass a law that would allow homeschooled students to participate in public school athletic programs, just like Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow did when he was younger. Some are opposing the idea, however, saying such a law would give home-educated students an unfair advantage over other students.

Scott Woodruff, senior counsel with the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), was recently called to the state's capital to testify regarding the issue.

He told The Christian Post on Tuesday that some homeschooling parents think it is unfair that their children can't participate in public school sports teams when they are spending thousands of dollars annually to support the public schools through taxes.

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"The public schools are owned by the public, and they should be the people who pay for them," said Woodruff.

If passed, the three new bills – which have been dubbed the "Tebow Law" by their sponsors – would allow homeschooled students to participate in interscholastic athletic programs in public schools, The Associated Press reports. The bills are being pushed by three of the state's Republican House delegates – J. Randall Minchew, Robert B. Bell and David I. Ramadan.

The legislation is named after the Denver quarterback, who played football with a public school team in Florida while being homeschooled before eventually moving on to win a Heisman Trophy, a BCS National Championship and a starting quarterback position with the Broncos in the NFL.

The Virginia High School League (VHSL) is the organization overseeing the state's interscholastic sports for public schools. The organization's executive director, Ken Tilley, told AP that he feels the legislation would give homeschoolers an unfair advantage over other students.

"There are thousands of public school students whose parents pay taxes and who don't meet all of the 13 eligibility requirements and they can't participate," Tilley said. "Why should homeschoolers get that advantage? It completely destroys all fairness."

Tilley told CP that homeschooling is a choice, and pointed out that private school students aren't allowed to participate in public school athletic programs just because their families pay taxes to public school systems.

"Homeschool families make a choice. And private school families make a choice. And public school families make a choice. And whatever you choose, then you receive the benefits, the programs and the opportunities that are related to that choice," said Tilley.

Opponents of the bills are also concerned because it can be hard to monitor the academic progress of homeschooled students, or they are afraid that homeschoolers won't be held to the same academic eligibility requirements as other students.

But Woodruff says that opponents of the bill need only to look to other states with similar laws – like Iowa, Florida or Maine – to realize that it can be done.

Dan Smith, executive director of the School Administrators of Iowa, says that to his knowledge there have never been any significant problems with the law in his state.

"Initially there may have been some concern about that, through the early '90s maybe, but I think that's a pretty well-accepted practice now...I'm not aware of any really serious issues around that in the last...decade or so," Smith told CP.

He says that Iowa also has ways of making sure homeschool students meet academic standards.

"The students who are homeschooled, there's a requirement that they be supervised by a certified teacher or that they have regular assessments, and that they have to show that they're meeting expectations in regard to those assessments," he said.

Woodruff says he believes that the "Tebow Law" will pass, although he does acknowledge that not all homeschooling parents will be eager to get their children into public school sports if it does.

"I think what parents want is simply the choice," said Woodruff. "And, as we know from history, when you bring in more choice and more freedom into a system, everyone tends to benefit."

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