- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 17, 2015

After getting sacked for years by the Virginia legislature, the state Senate on Tuesday passed a version of the so-called “Tebow bill” to allow home-schooled children to participate in public school interscholastic sports, likely putting the issue before Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The Senate approved a House-passed measure on a 22-13 vote after amending it to allow for a local “opt-in” provision so local school boards wouldn’t be forced to recognize the policy.

Proponents of the measure say they want to see home-schooled kids have the opportunity for interscholastic competition, akin to former NFL player and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled in Florida and played football on a local high school team.

“Fundamentally, this bill is about opportunity,” said Del. Rob Bell, Albemarle Republican and sponsor of the House bill. “This is about giving the over 32,000 home-schoolers in Virginia the opportunity to participate in school sports, clubs and group activities. This is about letting parents decide how to design the optimal educational path for their children.”

Mr. Bell plans to accept the Senate amendment, which would clear the way for the measure passed on Tuesday to head to Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Asked about the measure Tuesday, Mr. McAuliffe’s office said only that he will review it when it reaches his desk.

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Three Democrats joined 18 Republicans to support the measure (Sen. Rosalyn Dance, Richmond Democrat, said she voted yea and had apparently intended to vote no).

Similar versions had died in the Senate in past years, with the state’s public high school sports league and teachers’ associations arguing that it would foster an unlevel playing field for public school students subject to more stringent academic requirements than home-schooled students.

To participate, a student would have to demonstrate evidence of progress in two straight academic years and comply with other relevant requirements. They would only be able to try out for teams in their “attendance zone” and could be charged fees for things like insurance, uniforms or equipment.

For years, Mr. Bell had sponsored versions of the bill that ran into opposition in a Senate that had been controlled by Democrats.

Even in 2012 and 2013, when Republicans controlled the House and had effective control of the state Senate, a version of the bill died in committee both times, with former Sen. Harry B. Blevins, Virginia Beach Republican, voting with Democrats against the bill.

More than half of the states in the country let home-schooled kids try out for high school sports leagues, according to the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.

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• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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