Bill would allow home-schoolers to play on public school teams

A bill in the General Assembly would allow home-schooled students to participate in sports at their local public high schools, as well as all academic competitive programs overseen by the Georgia High School Association.

As in other states, Georgia Senate Bill 163is named for University of Florida Heisman Trophy winner and former homeschool student Tim Tebow.

The bill failed to pass out of the Senate Education and Youth today due to a tie vote. That does not mean it's dead.

SB 163 marks a return to the public-school-buffet-line movement in which politicians treat public school offerings as a buffet line from which parents can pick the activities that appeal to them. The rationale is that parents of Georgia’s 71,000 home-schooled students pay taxes, too, and thus should reap some benefits.

“Home-schoolers and their parents are paying property taxes. So, we feel it is only responsible to allow them access to the same facilities,” said sponsor Sen. Bruce Thompson, R-White.

But parents who send their children to private schools also pay property taxes. So do millions of Georgians without kids.

Should any resident of Georgia make a claim on public school facilities simply by virtue of being a taxpayer? Can someone insist on access to the indoor track at their high school to run? Can you go and check out books at your local high school library?

A key point the Senate Ed Committee never addressed today: Not all extracurricular activities are financed through tax dollars. Some after-school clubs and sports are kept afloat by silent auctions, donations and bake sales. Some activities are created and run by parents, while others depend on teacher volunteers.

Is it fair to ask teachers to donate their limited time to students outside of their schools?

As one teacher told me tonight, she volunteers with the track team as way to get to know her students, to connect to them and their families. Allowing kids from outside the building for clubs or sports means someone has to manage their arrivals and handle communications.

For example, the teacher said, if she cancels a running clinic she had planned, it’s easy to get the word out to the kids at her school via announcements. What if she can’t reach the parents of the home-schooled students? Whose responsibility is it if the parent and kids show up after school?

And it's not just sports that are involved. Among the activities overseen by the Georgia High School Associationare boys' baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, lacrosse, riflery (co-ed), soccer, swimming, tennis, track, and wrestling and girls' basketball, competition cheerleading (co-ed & non co-ed), cross country, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, riflery, fast pitch softball, slow pitch softball, soccer, swimming, tennis, track, and volleyball. GHSA also administers dramatic interpretation, essay, GHSA Debate, extemporaneous speaking, one act plays, quartet, spelling, trio and vocal solo.

The bill tiptoes around the issue of academic standing; now participation in sports is affected by a student’s school grades. How will schools be assured that home-schooled students are academically qualified?

They’ll ask mom.

The bill states: “The student's parent provides written verification that the student is receiving a 72 passing grade in each course taught, is maintaining a satisfactory progress toward advancement, and meets the requirements for participation. The local board of education may not question the accuracy or validity of the statement or request additional information.”

The bill contains a provision that one lawmaker characterized as a loophole for public school students who become academically ineligible. The provision states: “A student who withdraws from a public school to enroll in a home study program shall be ineligible for participation in extracurricular and interscholastic activities for six months, beginning on the date in which the student enters the home study program.”

“This is a door for problems right here,” said state Sen. Ellis Black, R-Valdosta. “I come out of an area where sports are very competitive. This would open the door to some situation where a kid is having grade problems and fixing to become academically ineligible. All of sudden he goes to home school.”

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Cole Muzio of the Family Policy Alliance, a public policy partner of Focus on the Family, said he didn't believe parents would make a commitment to home-school just to enable their child to continue playing a sport.

“I think that is a pretty big leap. This is a not a life raft. This is about ensuring opportunity for every kid,” Muzio said.

“Obviously, people who would do that don’t have academic progress for their kids as their major focus,” said Black. “I assure you there are people out there where the major focus of their life is athletics."