The Denver Broncos’ offseason just started, but their star quarterback Tim Tebow is already back in the news. Legislators in Virginia and several other states are considering proposals to allow homeschooled students to play high school sports at local public schools. Called Tebow laws, they are the same kind of rules that allowed their homeschooled namesake to play high school football in Florida long before he joined the NFL.
Despite — or perhaps because of — Tebow’s success, the prospect of lots of homeschoolers joining high school sports teams has the education establishment up in arms. Many opponents to Tebow laws repeat the mantra, “High school sports are a privilege, not a right.” Others fret that the logistics will be too daunting; for starters, how can you ensure homeschoolers are academically eligible to play? And after years of deriding public schools, homeschooling advocates seem shocked they’re not being greeted with open arms. The controversy surrounding Tebow laws is at once a reminder that homeschooling is too lightly regulated and a cautionary tale for those who want to broaden support for public schools.
The debate in Virginia, where I served on the state board of education, about the proposed Tebow law is the highest-profile so far. The politician championing the law got a lot of attention last week with the way he celebrated the bill passing one chamber of the state legislature: by Tebowing, getting down on one knee as the quarterback has become famous for doing and bowing his head in prayer. (Governor Bob McDonnell has said he will sign the bill if it passes in the state senate.) Homeschooled students in Virginia — as well as in some other states — can already take classes in public schools if local school districts decide to allow it. The Tebow law would work the same way. It wouldn’t mandate participation but would create a local option for school districts to decide. For their part, student athletes would still have to make the teams they want to play on and pay fees just like public school kids. According to various homeschooling associations, 29 states currently allow access to sports for homeschooled students, although often with many restrictions on eligibility. Just 13 states provide broad access for homeschoolers