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Florida House Approves Bill Expanding Eligibility for Student-Athletes

The Florida House of Representatives voted late Thursday to approve a bill that would allow public and charter school students to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities at a neighboring school if their own school did not provide said activity.

The bill, which passed the House by a vote of 82-34, would also allow homeschooled students and virtual school students to participate in extracurricular activities at any public school in the district in which he or she resides, or a public school in another district that the student could choose to attend under open-enrolment policies. Additionally, it would require the Florida High School Athletic Association to facilitate a program that would allow middle and high school students who attend private school to participate in public school sports.

Florida already allows homeschooled students to participate in public school sports at the public school to which the student would be assigned under a law passed in 1996 (the so-called "Tim Tebow Law," named after the former Florida Gators quarterback). However, private school students are not currently permitted to participate in public school sports under FHSAA bylaws.

When it comes to expanding athletic eligibility for homeschooled student-athletes, the Florida House will likely have the support of the public. Four out of five Americans believe homeschooled students should have the opportunity to participate in public school sports, according to a poll released last year from Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa.

However, expanding athletic eligibility for a wider swath of student-athletes appears to be a much more contentious issue.

According to The Palm Beach Post, the Palm Beach County School Board has been grappling with the issue of extracurricular eligibility for the past few years. Last year, chairman Chuck Shaw reportedly expressed concern about expanded eligibility leading to schools "recruiting" top athletes and musicians.

Likewise, Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, told the Tampa Bay Times that the bill "will allow for abuse and misuse of the system." One of Rouson's colleagues, Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, expressed concern about funding, saying "the bill is unfair to public schools because it unfairly places the burden of offering extra-curricular activities on the public schools."

The bill now goes to the Senate, which is comprised of 26 Republicans and 14 Democrats, for consideration.

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