RICHMOND — A push by home-schoolers to get their children onto Virginia’s public school playing fields died in the General Assembly on Thursday, with Democrats leading the charge against the so-called “Tebow bill.”
The measure, which passed the House this year after failing the last two years, was killed by a Senate committee lobbied by the state’s public school sports league and teachers associations. The groups argued the bill would create an unlevel playing field for public-school students, who would be subject to more stringent eligibility requirements than their home-schooled counterparts.
“Every single parent who chooses to home-school their kid knows what the ground rules are,” Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw said. “Parents know that choice, and they know what the ramifications are.”
Mr. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, said passing the bill could portend additional requests for home-schoolers in future years.
“It’s the camel’s nose under the tent,” he said.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Robert B. Bell, Albemarle Republican, garnered significant attention for its nickname - after Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled in Florida and played football on a local high school team.
Mr. Bell said a parade of home-schooled children speaking before the Senate Education and Health Committee who played tennis, basketball and baseball were not asking for a spot on teams - just an opportunity.
“Home schooling has become more an everyday, mainstream choice,” Mr. Bell said after the vote. “They get tested every year by the state and have to score at certain levels but one they can’t do is have big-team athletics. And so we’re trying to find a way for these students, who are doing everything the state tells them to do, who are in good academic standing, can have a way to play sports.”
The 8-7 committee vote was largely along party lines, with Sen. Harry B. Blevins, Virginia Beach Republican and a former teacher, voting with seven Democrats against the legislation. The Republican-controlled House approved the measure last month on a 59-39 vote.
About 32,000 students are home-schooled in Virginia. Twenty-five states either allow home-schoolers to play sports at public schools, do not prohibit it, or leave the discretion to localities, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
“I would like to see a Tim Tebow for the state of Virginia,” said Sen. Richard H. Black, Loudoun Republican.
The bill was opposed by the Virginia High School League, which coordinates public school sports throughout the state, as well as the Virginia Education Association and other teachers groups.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, had supported the measure.
Mr. Bell said that despite the bill’s failure, he would continue to support the issue.
“We’ll keep banging our heads against the wall until finally, we’ll find a way through,” he said.
The same Senate committee on Thursday also killed an administration-backed bill that would allow local school districts the option of opening their doors before Labor Day.
The so-called “King’s Dominion” law is named after the theme park outside of Richmond, because efforts to repeal it are consistently opposed by the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, which heavily relies on student labor during the summer. The industry argues the repeal could have a negative impact on tourism.
The bill’s patron, Delegate Robert Tata, Virginia Beach Republican, noted that 77 out of 132 of the state’s school divisions already have waivers that allow them to start school before Labor Day.
“We’re the only state on the East Coast that opens school after Labor Day,” Mr. Tata said afterward. “It’s been proven that it doesn’t affect tourism at all. What you lose at the end, you pick up at the beginning, and vice versa.”
But with Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, lurking in the background of the room, the committee voted to kill the measure for a second time, having already dispatched the Senate version on the same 9-6 vote.