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Va. Senate Panel Quashes 'Tebow Bill' Again

For the second straight year, a bill that would have allowed homeschooled high school athletes in Virginia to participate in public school sports fell one vote short in a state Senate committee today.

The so-called "Tebow Bill," which passed the state House last month on a vote of 56-43, earned its nickname from former New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. Back before his days in the National Football League, Tebow played football at a public high school in Florida despite being homeschooled.

Virginia students won't have that opportunity for at least one more year, however. The state Senate committee on education and health voted down the legislation, 8-7.

State delegate Rob Bell, the sponsor of the legislation, argued that homeschooled students shouldn't be required to attend public schools just to play sports. "We should support the ability of parents to craft the optimal educational plan for their children," he wrote on a website dedicated to his legislation.

Supporters of the bill also argued that because they pay taxes, families of homeschooled students should be allowed to have their children play public school sports.

Opponents of the bill, including the Virginia High School League, argue that homeschooled students can't be held to the same eligibility standards as public school students. Listed at the very top of the "Individual Eligibility Regulations" section in the VHSL's 2012-13 handbook is the "Bona Fide Student Rule," which requires student-athletes to be "a regular bona fide student in good standing of the school which he/she represents."

Allowing homeschooled students to participate in public school sports would "create a separate class of students who are held to different standards," said Ken Tilley, the executive director of the VHSL, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "And they are lesser standards."

Had the bill passed, it would have prevented public high schools in the state from joining the VHSL or any other organization that bans homeschooled students from participating in interscholastic programs. It would have also allowed high schools to charge homeschooled students "reasonable fees" to cover the cost of participation in sports, "including the costs of additional insurance, uniforms, or equipment."

Just like in 2012, Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Chesapeake, cast the deciding vote.

Last August, the Arkansas Activities Association approved similar legislation. Starting with the 2013-14 school year, Arkansas homeschooled students in grades 7-12 will be allowed to participate in public school extracurricular activities. The rule doesn't, however, guarantee a spot on a sports team for a homeschooled athlete.

A majority of states have some form of law governing what public school activities homeschooled students are allowed to take part in, according to a November 2012 brief from the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Want all the latest K-12 sports news? Follow @SchooledinSport on Twitter.

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