Under current University Interscholastic League (UIL) rules, districts can allow home school students to compete — but only if they are enrolled for at least four hours of instruction per day and thus, technically, no longer home-schooled. House Bill (HB) 547 lets the students compete without this enrollment requirement.
The Texas Home School Coalition has voiced support for the proposal, colloquially called “the Tebow bill” after professional athlete and former home-schooler Tim Tebow.
“Although homeschool families pay taxes to support [University Interscholastic League] UIL programs, the UIL prohibits homeschool students from taking advantage of those opportunities,” the group stated.
“UIL programs include traditional sports (football, basketball, etc.), chess, music, debate, wrestling, robotics and more. Yet, homeschoolers are refused access to these opportunities in their own neighborhood.”
Some home school families and advocates have said that districts already have the choice to let home-schooled students play and claimed the bill is unnecessary and even burdensome.
“This bill as written has allowed massive government oversight of homeschooling in other states where it has passed,” the group Texans for Homeschool Freedom wrote.
“That is NOT what homeschoolers in Texas need.”
While many parents that take this option still consider their children home-schooled after enrolling them in the minimum four hour instruction, those students technically become fully enrolled public school students after that point.
The objections of some home-schoolers made them unlikely allies with several teachers’ unions and traditional public school advocates. The Association of Texas Professional Educators called HB 547 a drain on public school finances and an unfair option for failing students.
“This would force districts to spend local taxpayer dollars to pay for the activities of students who are not included in the finance formulas that determine how much funding schools receive,” the group stated.
“HB 547 would also allow home-school students to compete without meeting the same stringent academic guidelines as public school students, effectively bypassing the decades-old ‘no pass, no play’ rule… [It] creates an incentive for students struggling academically to be withdrawn to a home-school environment in which they can continue to participate in UIL without meeting ongoing academic eligibility requirements and having to take the [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] STAAR exam.”
The Texas High School Coaches Association strongly opposed it as well, calling it a lopsided advantage for home school students.
Home-schoolers and teachers unions aren’t the only strange bedfellows on this bill. Carried by a bipartisan squad of three Republicans and four Democrats, it exposed internecine rifts among both parties. The House vote aligned rural Republicans like Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) with public school faithfuls like Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), pitting them against Texas Freedom Caucus members like Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler) and more liberal progressives like Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston).
One Republican, Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Pearland), previously suggested an amendment to make home-schoolers pass the STAAR to compete. The amendment failed, with Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy) noting that this requirement does not exist for public school students, who must pass their classes — not the STAAR — to play.
Each chamber will have to concur in the bill’s amendments or else meet in a conference committee to agree on a version before sending it to the governor’s desk. Texas would be the 36th state to pass a state law letting homeschoolers play in public league sports.
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