As home schooling has expanded in size and scope in Texas, THSC has recognized that merely defending our rights when they are threatened is no longer sufficient. Rather, as home educators, we must approach our rights from a proactive perspective, growing and expanding our rights constantly.
One way THSC is working to improve the choice of home schoolers all over Texas is by working for the passage of the “Tim Tebow” bill, otherwise known as “equal access” legislation. The Tim Tebow bill would allow home schooled students, who may not have as many options for extracurricular sports activities in their area as public school students, the ability to participate in their public school district’s University Interscholastic League (UIL) activities.
In Texas, as in many other states, our taxpayer dollars go toward funding public schools, and thereby, their participation in UIL sports and activities. However, unlike more than half of the states, Texas law does not permit home schooled students to participate in UIL activities, despite the fact that many home schoolers would benefit from participation due to their rural location, or lack of specific extracurricular opportunities, and despite the fact that our property taxes fund UIL events.
There have been some concerns voiced by the home school community over the effects of this bill, the most common being the question of whether the Tim Tebow bill would result in increased regulation of home schooling by the government. Protecting the home school community is our top priority at THSC and after collecting facts, researching other states with similar laws to the Texas Equal Access (Tim Tebow) bill, and consulting with legal experts, we’ve concluded that home schooling rights will not be threatened, and regulation will not increase, as a result of the Tim Tebow bill. Here’s why:
In over half of the states, home school participation in public school sports is allowed statewide. In several other states, home school participation in public school sports is determined by individual school districts. In none of these states did home schooling become more regulated as a result of their equal access laws.
In fact, Scott Woodruff, Senior Counsel for HSLDA, described the idea that Tebow laws cause regulation for home schooling as a “myth,” stating that, “There is not a single state in which homeschool laws were made more burdensome after homeschoolers won sports access. In a number of states, the homeschool laws actually improved after homeschoolers obtained access to sports, including Idaho, Iowa, Maine, and South Dakota.” Pennsylvania, which is widely viewed as the most restrictive home schooling state in the country, has recently been added to that list.
Another concern some home schoolers have is that the Tim Tebow bill will require home schoolers who want to compete in UIL to undergo academic testing, which some believe could cause increased regulation. THSC worked with UIL to craft language to the bill that would mirror, as closely as possible, the applicable requirements for public school eligibility, so as to avoid the appearance of favoritism on either side. Several points to consider are:
- If home schooled students want to apply for a state university, they often are required to take a standardized test–like the ACT or SAT–as it is part of the university’s application process. However, such policies have been ongoing for decades, and never have they caused home schooling to become more regulated, nor is it a “regulation” upon home schooling, because it is not forced. If someone would prefer to go to a university that doesn’t require standardized testing for admissions, that is an option.
- Public school students are required to pass standardized testing for grade advancement, which helps to determine their UIL eligibility for the first six weeks of competition. Similarly, home school students would take a national standardized test to determine eligibility for the first six weeks of the school year.
- Most importantly, if someone truly fears that taking a standardized test would endanger them, the Tim Tebow bill doesn’t force any home schoolers to participate in UIL sports. It simply allows those that do to exercise their liberty and choose to do so.
Several individuals have asked whether UIL access for home schoolers would jeopardize vibrant home school leagues. Fortunately, again, the evidence decisively indicates that a Tim Tebow bill would not harm home school leagues. Most of those home schooled students who might apply for a UIL team will be individuals who don’t find it feasible to compete in a home school league as an alternative, most often due to geographic location.
Some have voiced concerns that the Tim Tebow bill seeks to define home schools as separate from traditional private schools, and fear that this could conflict with the Leeper decision, in which the Texas Supreme Court recognized that families have a right to home school in Texas. Not only does the Tebow bill not add any definition of home schooling to the law, but it is also fully consistent with the Leeper case. In fact, the attorney who argued the case before the state Supreme Court, J. Shelby Sharpe, stated regarding SB 929, which passed the Texas Senate last session:
“In light of my understanding of the Leeper opinion, it is my opinion that had the bill passed it would not have diminished or altered any holding in Leeper. The UIL is a part of The University of Texas system. There are private schools who are members and participants in its activities. The UIL has the right to set academic standards for those schools desiring to participate in its activities. No private school is compelled to join the UIL and may withdraw at any time.”
This brings us to the final question: why not pass a bill that groups home schooled students with traditional private schooled students?
- First, private schools are technically allowed to compete in UIL, but they must meet several very stringent requirements that would exclude home schoolers (they must be accredited by the Texas Private School Accreditation Commission, must not qualify for similar leagues, and must have a school on an established campus). As a result, language is needed that clearly specifies that home schooled students may participate.
- Second, although THSC has supported, and will continue to support, bills that combine home schooled and private schooled UIL access, those bills have met with far less legislative support. The inclusion of traditional private schools in the language has drawn significant opposition from parties who do not oppose a home school version of the UIL bill, as the impact of the home school students on the system is very different from that of traditional private schools.
We must be vigilant in defending our rights, but we must also be wary of mistaking equality for regulation. We take all concerns about increased government control over home schoolers very seriously, which is why THSC has devoted a significant amount of manpower and time into researching equal access laws, and we are pleased to tell you that they have never resulted in an increase of home school regulation, even when academic testing is required for participation.
THSC will not stand by and wait for home schooling freedom to happen by accident, or resort to a reactive defense of home schooling in Texas. THSC is on the front lines pushing for increased freedom of home schooling actively and constantly. Let’s actively support home schooling in Texas with the Tim Tebow bill, so that parents and families do not have to choose between either academic opportunity or athletic opportunity for their children.
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