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Miss. Lawmakers Weighing Homeschooled Students' Participation in Sports

Mississippi lawmakers are considering whether to allow home-schooled students participate in public school sports and band, following in the footsteps of a number of other states in recent years.

The state Senate education committee approved the bill on a split vote Tuesday, according to Jeff Amy of the Associated Press, sending it to the full Senate.

"Those students' parents are paying the same tax dollars as the parents of those who are attending public school," said the bill's author, state Sen. Joey Fillingane, per Jeffrey Hess of Mississippi Public Broadcasting. "It's a tax-fairness issue when you get down to it. I mean why should people be treated differently who are paying the same taxes?"

If the bill gets signed into law as is, homeschooled students would be allowed to participate in sports and band at the public school to which they would otherwise be assigned according to district school board attendance policies. Such students would be required to "adhere to the same standards of behavior, responsibility, performance, and code of conduct" as their public school counterparts, and must also "adhere to the same academic achievements on grade level as other participants, as determined by grade-level testing administered by a school psychometrist or his designee."

The latter requirement originally proved controversial with the Mississippi Home Educators Association, per the AP. As first written, the bill required homeschooled students to "adhere to the same academic standards" as public school students, raising concerns about forcing adherence to the Common Core-based standards used in Mississippi schools. The committee thus reworded that section, changing "academic standards" to "academic achievements."

State Sen. Brice Wiggins, the committee's lone dissenting vote, expressed concern about homeschooled students having the same access to public school facilities as publically schooled students.

"If you choose not to enroll your child in a public school, that's your choice, parental rights, that's fine," said Wiggins, via Hess. "But you want to be able to play sports? Well, they want their cake and eat it too."

According to a 2013 poll from Gallup and Phi Delta Kappa, four out of five Americans believe homeschooled students should have the opportunity to participate in public school sports. Public school parents were even more in support of the idea than the poll's national sample, with 85 percent saying homeschooled students should be allowed to participate.

According to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, more than 20 U.S. states allow homeschooled children to participate in public school sports.

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