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Virginia Homeschoolers Forced to Punt on Tebow Bill

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Virginia Homeschoolers Forced to Punt on ‘Tebow Bill’

By Linda Dobson

homeschoolersIt took a lot of support, advocacy, and superb organizing for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers to get HB947, the Homeschool Sports Access Bill – also known as the Tebow Bill for obvious reasons – as far as it got. Unfortunately, forward motion provided by the House stopped yesterday when the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated HB 947 with an 8-7 vote. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, “Sen. Harry B. Blevins, R-Chesapeake, a former public school principal and coach, cast the deciding vote against the measure in the GOP-controlled committee.”

See also Congrats, Homeschooled Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor

The bill, supported by Governor Bob McDonnell, was originally introduced on behalf of the homeschoolers by Del. Rob Bell’s (R-Charlottesville), who states the bill will be reincarnated in the 2013 legislative session.

The following information is provided by the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers via Amy Wilson, Virginia Homeschoolers Director of Government Affairs.

Press Release from Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers

Homeschooling families from across the Commonwealth packed a Senate hearing room this morning, and they were disappointed with what they heard. Despite compelling testimony from homeschooled students who pleaded for more athletic opportunities in their own communities, the Senate Education and Health Committee defeated HB 947, Del. Rob Bell’s (R-Charlottesville) bill that would have allowed homeschoolers to try out for sports at their local high schools. The so-called “Tebow Bill,” nicknamed in honor of the formerly-homeschooled NFL quarterback, has garnered significant media attention and inspired strong public opinion both in its favor and in opposition. The bill was defeated in a tight vote, with eight of the fifteen senators opposed. The vote was largely along party lines, with all of the Democratic senators, plus one Republican, voting in opposition and the remaining seven Republicans voting in support.

Del. Bell and The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers testified in favor of HB 947, but the most powerful testimony was from the ten homeschooled students who asked the committee to approve the bill. Of particular note was testimony from a public school student at Godwin High School in Henrico County. She previously homeschooled but chose to attend public school partly to play sports. Her junior varsity basketball team recruited players because they didn’t have enough students try out to field a team. The ability to accept homeschooled students would have been of benefit to her team and she is in support of sports access. Superintendents, the Virginia PTA., and multiple school divisions. Varina High School also had a large number of students attend the hearing and many chose to state their opposition to the bill.

Today’s vote is a heavy blow for Virginia’s homeschooled students, who for years have been asking the VHSL to allow them to try out for programs at their local high schools. Until this year, no bill on this topic has made it out of committee in the General Assembly. HB 947 received overwhelming support from the Virginia House of Delegates last month, and Governor McDonnell had indicated that he would sign it if it had reached his desk.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers (VaHomeschoolers), a nonprofit, volunteer-run statewide homeschooling association, expressed the disappointment of the homeschooling community. “Our children want to try out to play with the same friends and neighbors who have been their teammates all along, in Little League, middle school sports, and high school club sports,” said Amy Wilson, Director of Government Affairs for VaHomeschoolers. “Misinformation about the bill and about homeschooling in general contributed to the bill’s failure. Homeschooling families aren’t anti-public schools, and we are strongly committed to our communities.”

Community Members Responded to Homeschoolers Sports Access Bill

A comment from MommyWorks is representative of those from folks who are glad the bill failed:

I think that the home school kids do have an unfair advantage. They are essentially tutored 1:1 and allowed to focus on their weaknesses in a way that a kid on an 8 class/day schedule cannot.  They are not held to the VA Standards of Learning or affected by No Child Left Behind Requirements.  Also they are not tested in the same manner as the kids in the classroom with 20 other students or subject to the same social pressures of attending a regular school.

I just copied this comment; don’t ask me to explain it. I don’t know what the (admitted) homeschoolers academic advantage has to do with the topic at hand.

Importantly, Amy Wilson adds: “It’s been discouraging the degree to which this bill has been portrayed as — and has played out in the legislature as — a partisan political issue. For the diverse population of homeschooling families, this bill is about opening up healthy opportunities for children in their own communities. The media has focused on the partisan politics in the Virginia General Assembly, and in some (but not all) cases, legislators have done the same.

“Association with Tim Tebow has, unfortunately, exacerbated this issue. Mr. Tebow is a great athlete and, undoubtedly, a wonderful guy and role model for student-athletes. Unfortunately, many people see him (rightly or wrongly) as an icon in our society’s culture wars about the appropriate role of religion in the public sphere. This is an important issue, but when it’s linked with homeschooling, it serves to reinforce stereotypes that home education is a choice limited to religiously- and politically-conservative families.

“The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers supports home education as an option for all families who feel that it’s right for their children, and we focus only on homeschooling issues, not religious or partisan political issues — because we feel that is the best way to ensure homeschooling freedoms for all families.”

My hat is off to the many hard-working volunteers and member families of Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers who did their best for all of the homeschoolers of their state and whom I know will be ready to run with the ball again in 2013!

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