- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 3, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi home school students would be able to participate in sports and extracurricular activities at their local public schools under a bill moving forward in the state Senate.

The Senate Education Committee approved it on a split voice vote Tuesday, sending it to the full Senate for further debate.

Proponents say home school students should be able to participate in the activities because their families pay taxes to fund public schools. They note that more than 20 states already allow some kind of participation, including Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee.

“We have a lot of people who are saving the state a lot of tax money by home schooling,” said Sen. Angela Hill, R-Picayune. “I think it’s just a goodwill gesture that these kids could integrate with the school system and play sports if they want to.

Supporters call Senate Bill 2329 the Tim Tebow bill, noting the Heisman-winning University of Florida quarterback took advantage of such provisions in Florida.

Opponents say home school parents have chosen a different path for their children and shouldn’t expect access to public school resources.

“You’re saying ‘I want to home school my child but I want the benefit of public-school athletics,’” said Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula. “It’s kind of wanting to have your cake and eat it too.”

The Mississippi Home Educators Association, a group of Christian home schoolers, had opposed the bill as written, warning that it could be a backdoor attempt to impose state guidelines. The association was particularly concerned about a passage that said parents must provide documents showing a child is adhering to the same academic standards as public school students. Lawmakers said that passage was intended to make participants take the same standardized tests as public school students.

Hill said that could force home schooled students to be taught using the Common Core-based standards Mississippi public schools use, a move she opposes. She amended the bill instead to say that students should have to show the same “academic achievements” as public school students and should get an evaluation to determine they are at or above grade-level.

The Mississippi High School Activities Association regulates high school sports for public schools as well as some private schools. It also sanctions competition in band, chorus, cheerleading, dance, speech and debate. The bill opens competition in sports and band to home schooled students, but not other activities.

Don Hinton, executive director of the association, declined comment Tuesday, saying he needed more time to study the bill.

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Online: Senate Bill 2329: http://bit.ly/1DagkT0

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Follow Jeff Amy at: http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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