RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia Senate committee rejected legislation Thursday that would have allowed home-schooled students to play public school sports.
The Education and Health committee voted 8-7 kill to the "Tim Tebow bill" _ a reference to the Denver Broncos quarterback who was home-schooled and went on to win a Heisman Trophy and lead the University of Florida to a national championship.
The meeting room was packed with home-schoolers who supported the bill and a group of Varina High School athletes who opposed it. Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle and sponsor of the bill, said after the meeting that he will reintroduce the legislation next year.
Supporters of the bill, which Gov. Bob McDonnell supported, said home-schooled children deserve the opportunity to play interscholastic sports because their parents pay taxes to support public schools.
Opponents argued that parents who choose to teach their kids at home know the consequences, and it would be unfair to let those students play without meeting the academic standards that others must meet to remain eligible.
"Every parent of every child in this room has a choice," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax. "They know what the ramifications are."
He said that if the bill passed, home-schoolers would soon be back demanding access to public school labs or other facilities.
But Sen. Stephen D. Newman, R-Lynchburg, emphasized that the bill would give local school divisions the option of allowing home-schoolers to compete. He said the decision should be made by elected school boards rather than the Virginia High School League, the sanctioning body that governs interscholastic athletics.
He also said lawmakers try to put the best interests of children first, and should do so by voting for the bill.
"I would hope we as a committee would step out and hug these children," Newman said.
Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, said Florida "had the good sense to say these parents are paying the same freight as everyone else" and allowed Tebow to play football and become a star.
"I would like to see a Tim Tebow from the state of Virginia," he said.
Republican Sen. Harry Blevins of Chesapeake, a retired public school educator, voted with the committee's seven Democrats to defeat the bill.
At least 15 states allow home-schoolers to play interscholastic sports at public schools in their communities, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Thirteen states give homes-schooled children conditional or partial opportunities for extracurricular involvement at public schools.
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