Wendy Summers of the Christian Home Educators of West Virginia said one of her goals during home school day at the Legislature was to let lawmakers know that parents who choose alternatives to a traditional public education “don’t have a third eye in the middle of our heads.”
That shouldn’t be hard. Homeschooling, which once occupied a small niche of education, is increasing rapidly in this country, from about 300,000 students in 1992 to about two million today, and the homeschoolers have many allies at the Capitol.
Early on, most parents homeschooled for religious reasons, but the motivations have broadened with the availability of technology and creation of associations of like-minded parents that make it easier to master the pedagogy.
As the popularity of homeschooling has grown, so has the pressure by parents for states to allow their children to participate in extracurricular activities. At least 31 states now permit homeschoolers to play sports, but West Virginia is not one of them.
That came close to changing last year when the House and Senate approved the Tim Tebow Bill, named for the star athlete who was homeschooled in Florida. However, Governor Jim Justice, who coaches the Greenbrier East Girls High School basketball team, vetoed the bill without comment.
The previous year, the Tebow bill passed the Senate, but died in the House late in the session. Bill supporters hope this year will be different.
SB 130 has already cleared the Senate Education Committee and is now headed for the Finance Committee. The legislation permits “students who are home-schooled or taught by a private tutor, or enrolled in a private, parochial or church school or school operated by religious order to participate in extracurricular activities at schools that are members of the West Virginia Secondary School Activity Commission.”
The SSAC is on record against the proposal. Executive Director Bernie Dolan said during last year’s debate, “We just feel like it is going to create an opportunity for people to game the system.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, agrees. “It’s impossible to ensure the same academic and disciplinary standards (for homeschoolers) as with other athletes,” he said. “They will be treated differently.”
However, bill backers say there are safeguards built into the legislation. The bill says homeschoolers must adhere to the same standards of behavior and academics as the public school student.
Summers argues that it’s a matter of fairness. “If a parent chooses to home educate, now they don’t have the option for public sports, but some kids really, really benefit (from sports),” she said on Talkline Tuesday. “That’s a totally closed door to us right now.”
The homeschoolers are a small lobby, but they have the ear of many of the legislators, which accounts for why the bill moves every year. This year will not likely be any different and at some point this session the Tebow bill will end up on Governor Justice’s desk.
Remember during his State of the State address Justice said while he’s honored to be called “Governor,” he wouldn’t mind at all just being called “coach.” We’ll find out this session whether the coach has changed his strategy (and his mind) on the Tebow bill.