To play or not to play – Are homeschool students entitled by law to play on their local public school sports teams and leagues? As of 2014, twenty-eight state legislatures have answered “Yes!” either allowing such participation or adopting “Equal Access to Athletics” acts or bills, a.k.a. “Tim Tebow Laws.”
Who is Tim Tebow and why does this law carry his name?
Tim Tebow was homeschooled in Florida and because, in 1996, Florida had enacted a law allowing homeschool students to participate in public school sports, Tebow played as quarterback for the Allen D. Nease High School team in St. Augustine. (Ref: Florida HB347 and SB391 allowing high school students to participate in interscholastic activities in the public school district in the same way as students enrolled in public schools.)
As a result of his outstanding performance record, Tebow went on to play college football for the University of Florida where, in 2007, as a sophomore, he won the Heisman Trophy. Tebow was the first homeschooler and the first college sophomore to ever claim the distinction of winning the coveted award. When Tebow was nominated for the Heisman Trophy, he said: “That’s really cool. A lot of times people have this stereotype of home-schoolers as not very athletic – it’s like, go win a spelling bee or something like that. It’s an honor for me to be the first one to do that.” (Washington Post)
Tebow’s record in Florida persuaded some states to give home-schoolers the same kind of athletic opportunities as Tebow had in high school, but other states still leave the decision up to the local school district.
Arguments FOR and AGAINST
Predictably, cheers arise on the homeschooling side of the bleachers regarding Tim Tebow Laws. It is a fact that funding for U.S. public schools is generally tied to property taxes. If a homeschool family pays property taxes, they are, indeed, paying to support the public school system even though their children do not attend. It’s easily understandable that homeschool families might believe that paying property taxes should allow them access to the interscholastic athletics portion of the public education system along with everyone else.
Nonetheless, arguments against Tim Tebow Laws abound. Opponents point out that, even though many homeschool families pay property taxes, schools do not receive money for students who only participate in extra-curricular activities. In other words, because homeschool students not otherwise enrolled in the public school system are participating only in interscholastic sports, they are not included in the federal education funding “head count.” Additionally, schools find it difficult to determine and monitor eligibility for homeschool student athletes. There is also the question of the unfair advantage of extra practice time for homeschoolers, as Houston County Superintendent Tim Pitchford pointed out: ” . . . home school students have extra time to practice,” Pitchford said. “Students are actually dropping out of school and going the home bound route so they have more time to practice.” (www.highschoolsports.al.com)
A frequent argument against allowing homeschoolers to participate in public school sports programs was summed up by Florence City Schools Superintendent Janet Womack who said, ““The issue we run into that I am opposed to, and most of my colleagues are opposed to, would be parents being able to pick and choose that your school is good enough for my child when it comes to fine arts and athletics or career tech, but your school is not good enough for the other things,” Womack said. “I don’t believe you can have your cake and eat it, too. I think either you choose to be a part of that system or you choose not to be a part of that system. It is one or the other and not a little of both.” (www.highschoolsports.al.com)
Which states have said YES?
Despite the arguments, many states have agreed to allow homeschool students to participate in public school interscholastic sports. According to www.timtebowbill.com the line-up is as follows:
- Arizona – legislation passed
- Colorado – legislation passed
- Florida – legislation passed
- Idaho – legislation passed
- Illinois – legislation passed, must be partially enrolled
- Iowa – legislation passed
- Louisiana – legislation passed
- Maine – legislation passed
- Maryland – allows private schools with homeschool athletes to compete against public schools.
- Massachusetts – allowed by athletic association, no legislation necessary
- Michigan – legislation passed, must be partially enrolled
- Minnesota – legislation passed
- Missouri – legislation passed, must be partially enrolled
- Nebraska – legislation passed, must be partially enrolled
- Nevada – legislation passed
- New Hampshire – legislation passed
- New Mexico – legislation passed
- North Dakota – legislation passed
- Ohio – legislation passed, must be partially enrolled
- Oregon – legislation passed
- Pennsylvania – legislation passed
- Rhode Island – allowed by athletic association, no legislation necessary
- South Dakota – allowed by athletic association, no legislation necessary
- Tennessee – allowed by athletic association, no legislation necessary
- Utah – legislation passed
- Vermont – legislation passed
- Washington – legislation passed
- Wyoming – legislation passed
15 states are currently proposing legislation for equal access:
- Alabama – “Tim Tebow Bill”
- Arkansas – “Tim Tebow Bill”
- Kentucky – “Tebow Bill”
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
Another Option for Homeschool Athletes
Beyond the traditional homeschool, there is a growing trend toward school-at-home. Online schools are a great option for student athletes. An accredited school will offer academics leading to a diploma as well as monitor eligibility requirements for athletic pursuits. The flexibility of online school allows learning to fit with practice and tournament schedules.
One such school is International Virtual Learning Academy, an accredited private online school staffed by certified and highly qualified teachers. IVLA also boasts NCAA approval, meaning student athletes seeking eligibility for participation in the National Collegiate Athletics Association can take courses meeting academic requirements at IVLA.
IVLA has been instrumental in the success of student athletes such as competitive golfer Ashley Gilliam who recently placed third in national golf finals.
More to Come!
Homeschool and school-at-home programs are growing exponentially with as many as 2 million children receiving most or all of their education at home. As more and more families opt for non-traditional means of education, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities for students from all educational backgrounds to pursue their dreams.
To learn more about the homeschool state laws in your state click here.