By Amy Lee
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday vetoed the so-called Tebow bill that would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.
"Participation in athletic and academic competitions is a privilege for students who satisfy eligibility requirements," McAuliffe wrote in vetoing HB 1578, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville. "Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition."
This is the third consecutive year that Bell has shepherded such legislation through the General Assembly only to be stopped at the governor's office.
The bill was nicknamed after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who played football for a Florida high school while being home-schooled. The bill would have allowed high schools to join only interscholastic programs that welcomed home-schooled student athletes. If the bill had been enacted, the Virginia High School League would have had to implement policy changes to include home-schoolers alongside their public-school counterparts.
HB 1578 had passed the House 60-38 and the Senate 22-18. Earlier in the session, McAuliffe had announced his intention to veto the legislation. The governor has consistently joined opponents of the bill in saying that home-schooled students are not be held to the same academic expectations set for public school student athletes.
Bell's latest bill had sought to address that concern. It said home-schoolers would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate "evidence of progress" in their academic curriculum for two years before qualifying to play in a local high school's sports team. They would also be expected to meet the same immunization standards set by public schools.
In addition, under HB 1578, each school district would have had the right to decide whether home-school students would be welcome in its high school sports programs. This measure was meant to accommodate schools critical of the change. But opponents like Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said it would only complicate the system even more.
"The bottom line is, once Virginia High School League changes its policy, every school division is going to have to match up with it, because nobody is going to want to compete with half a loaf," Petersen said. "I've got some coaches in the audience that are here for state-winning championship teams, and I know what they would say, not on the merits of the bill, but simply that everyone has to play by the same set of rules."
As a result of McAuliffe's veto, the bill heads back to the General Assembly. It will require a two-thirds majority vote from both the House and Senate to override the veto.
Bell has pushed similar legislation since 2005 and says his efforts are to make sure children who thrive in home-schooling environments are not punished for it.
"If you are a parent and your kid doesn't fit into the public-school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling, except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options," Bell said. "Yet we're forcing parents to say, 'You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.'"