The legislation uses an opt-in system, meaning school boards would have the chance to decide whether or not to allow home-schoolers to compete.
State Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls) carried House Bill (HB) 547 with a bipartisan team of co-authors: Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Mary González (D-San Elizario), and Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock). Seen by some supporters and opponents as a referendum on loyalty to traditional school districts, the vote fell along similarly bipartisan lines.
Before passage on second reading yesterday, Frank told the story of one of his adopted sons and how sports helped him turn his grades and life around at a young age.
“You can listen to the kids who are finally recovered and have a chance to play,” Frank said.
Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville) likewise praised the benefits of sports to children’s developing maturity and said the tumultuous school year has shifted his position on home school.
“Something has taught me about this last year to feel a little differently about home school than I did last March,” Lucio said.
“I think you’ll find a lot of home-schoolers are great adults… I am who I am today because of sports. Period.”
The Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) lauded the bill’s passage, saying it brings Texas in line with the majority of the country.
“The passage of HB 547 is a tremendous step forward for the homeschoolers of Texas. According to the Census Bureau over 12% of the students in Texas were homeschooling as of last September/October. That would be well over 750,000 students,” THSC President Tim Lambert said.
“If the Texas Senate passes this legislation and the Governor signs it into law, Texas will be the 36th state to allow homeschoolers to participate in extra-curricular activities of public schools.”
Several education employee associations and lobbyists, including the Texas High School Coaches Association, criticized the bill as an unfair advantage to home school students and the schools that net them.
“Private trainers, unlimited practice time, and no STAAR requirements. You want our Texas high school students competing against that?” Mark Wiggins, lobbyist for the Association of Texas Professional Educators, asked.
“Members, please OPPOSE HB 547 if you care about school sports in Texas.”
The bill passed with 80 yeas and 64 nays. A substantial number of Democrats joined the more conservative and often suburban or urban edges of the Republican party in support of the bill, while several rural Republicans joined other Democrats in opposition. All but one member of the Texas Freedom Caucus voted yea — the exception being Rep. Cody Vasut (R-Angleton) — alongside former caucus member Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg).
Rural Republican Reps. Charlie Geren (R-Lake Worth), Ed Thompson (R-Pearland), and Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) voted nay, joining Democratic Reps. Alma Allen (D-Houston), John Bucy (D-Cedar Park), and Terry Meza (D-Irving), to name a few.
During discussion on HB 457, Thompson offered an amendment to require home-schoolers to pass the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test to participate. While Thompson introduced it as a way to level the playing field and hold home-schoolers to a “no-pass, no-play” standard, Rep. Mike Schofield (R-Katy) pushed back and noted that public school students do not have to pass the STAAR to compete. The amendment failed 48 to 93.
Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston), who sits firmly on his party’s left wing, explained his vote for the bill as both a fair use of tax dollars and a potential way for home-schoolers to start switching to public districts, receive vaccines, and socialize.
“Homeschool families pay taxes to school districts like everyone else. Why shouldn’t they use services that they help pay for?” Wu wrote.
“If providing homeschoolers opportunities to socialize with the overall community helps achieve this goal, then we should… Participating in sports and academic events may help convince homeschooled kids that they really want to join their peers in a regular school. Also, if participating in [University Interscholastic League] is WHY these kids finally get their needed vaccinations, then so much better.”
Education bills commonly spark internecine disputes within each party. Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), the chairman of the House’s Public Education Committee who voted for HB 547 and frequently clashes with public education unions, recently passed controversial Republican priority legislation out of his committee to retaliate against fellow Democrats who had just killed one of his bills meant to heighten accountability for Houston ISD and other failing districts.
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