The Senate has combined a bill that would expand athletics opportunities for Hope Scholarship recipients with a policy that would provide greater transfer options for high school athletes.
For the first 57 days of the legislative session, those policies were not linked. At least for now, they are.
In explaining the changes to House Bill 2820, Senator Patricia Rucker said the combined version is meant “to allow students all of our state to be treated equally and to be able to participate in extracurricular activities.”
That includes “if the school that they currently attend does not offer it, whether they homeschool whether they go to a microscope learning pod, or whether they attend a private school. It also includes provisions for a student to have a one time transfer within their high school years without a penalty of having to sit out a year.”
The Senate passed the amended bill 28-4.
The combo bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.
As originally structured, House Bill 2820 would allow Hope Scholarship recipients attending private schools, microschools, learning pods or homeschool settings to participate on public school teams unless the sport is already offered at their school.
That provision is now combined with what had been the policies in Senate Bill 262, allowing student-athletes to transfer schools at least one time and keep their athletic eligibility.
That bill passed the Senate in late January and has been under consideration and amendment by the House of Delegates.
Right now, the House of Delegates has the transfer bill parked on its inactive calendar.
Earlier this week, the House Education Committee made some changes to the bill to specify circumstances under which students may transfer in grades 9 through 12. Those include transfers from a private or parochial school to a public school, transfers from a public school to a private or parochial school or transfers to participate in a sport that is not offered at the original school.
Similar versions of the policy have been debated in years past at the Legislature, generating a hot-button back-and-forth over the limited time young athletes can maximize their own opportunities versus the desire for teams to have continuity.
Rucker, R-Jefferson, said she hopes the combined bill finally crosses the finish line.
“And essentially this legislation finally — and I hope for the final time — makes certain that all students in West Virginia have an equal opportunity to participate in extracurricular sports, and are treated the same no matter where they’re pursuing their education,” said Rucker, chairwoman of the Senate’s school choice committee.