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Homeschoolers Voice Concerns over Latest Texas ‘Tebow’ Bill

The Texas “Tebow bill” is back. Two lawmakers filed bills named for Tim Tebow, the former Heisman Trophy-winning University of Florida football player who was homeschooled but played on his local public school team. While proponents express excitement over a third attempt to pass “Tebow”, homeschoolers voiced concerns over the legislation.

Senator Van Taylor (R-Plano) filed SB 640 and Representative James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), a homeschool dad, filed the companion HB 1323 Friday. “The Tim Tebow bill seeks to give additional choices to homeschool families,” Taylor told Breitbart Texas by email. “With Tim Tebow in the bill title football gets the headlines, but I have had many conversations with homeschool families excited about the opportunity to explore debate, music, or even robotics leagues.”

The Tebow bill intends to grant homeschoolers access on local public school University Interscholastic League (UIL) sports and other teams. Bill supporters say homeschool families pay for these programs through their taxpayer dollars but their children cannot access them because they do not attend public school.

“The Tim Tebow bill ends the UIL prohibition against homeschool students and offers the 350,000 homeschool families the same access to choose whether or not they wish to participate in the UIL activities their tax dollars help fund,” added Taylor.

The Texas Home School Coalition (THSC), considered a leader in securing and protecting homeschool freedoms for families, supports the Tebow bill. In a press release, coalition President Tim Lambert stated THSC believes homeschool families, who pay taxes supporting their local school, should have access to the same opportunities through extracurricular activities as public school students.

Online, he cited a need for this legislation because 33 percent of rural homeschoolers experience limited sports team opportunities and alternative programs are too expensive. Frank echoed his viewpoint. “This opportunity is especially important for students who come from families of limited means or who live in rural areas where access to these activities is limited outside of the UIL.”

Despite enthusiasm, Taylor’s 2015 Tebow Bill (SB 2046) and an earlier 2013 version (HB 1374) from Representative Harold Dutton, Jr. (D-Houston) died in House committees. They also met with strong pushback from the homeschool community. Two years ago, Breitbart Texas reported on opposition home educators had with the language in Taylor’s bill. They voiced the looming unintended consequences of proposed regulations dictated by the public education system. In 2017, homeschoolers continue to say “No2Tebow”.

Texas Hill Country homeschool veteran Julie Jumes identified “Tebow” sore spots. “The testing requirement of the Tebow bill changes Texas’ No Pass, No Play, the state’s qualifying standard under which many home educated families currently participate,” she told Breitbart Texas.

Like in 2015, this bill includes “opt in” language where participating homeschool students “must demonstrate grade-level academic proficiency on any nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instrument, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, California Achievement Test, or Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.”

“Should the bill become law, homeschooled students must pass at grade level or better, a yearly test not required of other students under UIL No Pass, No Play,” said Jumes based on SB 640’s verbiage. However, she questioned how such changed No Pass, No Play policy could impact groups like 4-H, the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) and, in turn, homeschool families regardless of whether or not they “opt in.”

No2Tebow co-founder Kim Hartman expressed similar caution over the legislation. She explained to Breitbart Texas by email that home and private schooled children currently participate in 4-H and other groups by submitting a teacher or parent/teacher signed affidavit affirming they are passing all of their classes similar to public school student participants. Hartman suggested new mandates would apply if “Tebow” became law creating a new standardized testing component that “singles out homeschoolers for special testing.”

She added: “The grassroots coalition of Texas homeschool parents that organize under the banner No2Tebow OPPOSE the Tebow bill (a.k.a. “UIL Equal Access bill”) for a number of reasons, including the fact that the bill would write into Texas law the first ever instance of state mandated testing of any K-12 homeschooled student.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with other homeschool families around the state. Most opposed a “Tebow” bill, clearly favoring autonomy from the public education system. However, suburban Dallas parent Kelle Sunshine Berry supported SB 640 and told Breitbart Texas it was “because it would help families like ours by leveling the playing field.”

Despite the family’s access to homeschool co-ops and recognized extracurricular leagues where Berry said one son plays on a top-rated soccer club and the other performs in two orchestras, she thought it was “sad” they cannot participate in activities with neighborhood friends and peers at local public schools.

To address the numerous issues raised, Breitbart Texas spoke to THSC Policy Director Jeremy Newman, who hoped to allay fears for homeschool families. “The bill includes language that specifically prohibits any attempts by the state or other governmental entities from regulating home schools, he said, adding, “The language states that a homeschool family cannot be required to alter their educational program, practices, or creed in order to participate beyond the basic eligibility requirements specifically stated in the bill. Thus, the state and other governing bodies are strictly prohibited from even attempting to add regulations on home schools.”

Newman emphasized the nationally normed assessments were chosen “intentionally” because they are the same that many homeschool students already take for “application to college” or when participating in dual credit college programs. He said the state has no control over these tests and underscored UIL participation is not mandatory. “If they want to participate, they do so, if they do not want to take the test and participate, then they do not.”

He noted 4-H and TMEA are not bound by UIL rules, make their own rules, and operate completely independent from UIL. “This is apparent just by the fact that homeschoolers are able to participate in these programs at all, while they are disallowed from participation in UIL.”

In 2015, 4-H Director Chris Boleman stated they had no intention of altering participation requirements as a result of a Tebow bill. “We are aware of the legislation and will continue to do everything we can to provide opportunities for all students to be active in 4-H.” He emphasized: “4-H is a separate entity from UIL and unlike UIL, 4-H is available to all students public, private and homeschool. We do not anticipate any rule changes based on this legislation.”

Breitbart Texas reached out to 4-H for but did not hear back from them before press time. Still, many homeschool parents and THSC remain deadlocked over what they believe is best for their children.

On Friday, Lambert acknowledged community concerns, In a video, he said: “I just want to encourage homeschoolers in Texas, we are mindful of the dangers. We are looking but I just want to be sure that we have a definitive, clear target before we take our shots.”

Lambert cited 34 states have Tebow laws that allow homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities through their local public schools where homeschoolers do so “without negatively impacting other home school freedoms.”

However, in some states homeschooler eligibility hinges on standardized testing and they must test at their grade level or higher. Others require accredited homeschool programs through public school systems or partial enrollment to play. The State of Virginia just voted to try out a Tebow law. According to The Washington Post, homeschoolers have to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years, play for their home district, and meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports. Local school boards decide whether to allow them to participate in a school’s athletic program and schools can charge homeschoolers “reasonable fees” to cover participation costs to ease burden on other taxpayers.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.

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