PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A bill to allow home-schooled and private school students to play on public school sports teams is generating concerns among area officials.
The Tim Tebow Bill, also known as Senate Bill 105, was approved this week by the West Virginia Senate and has been sent to the state House of Delegates for consideration. The bill would allow home-schooled students to play on a public-school sports team. The bill also would allow parochial or private-school students to do likewise if the particular sport was not offered at their school.
The bill does not guarantee a student a place on a team, but would allow them to try out the same as a public school student at that school.
The bill is named after Tim Tebow, a professional football player and Heisman Trophy winner, who was home-schooled but played on public school teams.
Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, said the commission opposes the bill because it would create an unfair playing ground with loopholes for home-schooled and private school students.
“We think if you are going to represent a school, you should be a student at that school,” he said Thursday.
Dolan said one of the main issues is in determining eligibility. Public school students are required to have at least a 2.0 cumulative grade average, but home-schooled students will not be held to the same standard.
“In this bill, they just need to be making adequate progress,” which amounts to filing a paper stating such, Dolan said.
Dolan added a student with issues at a public school, such as poor attendance or facing punishment for behavior, could technically drop out to be homeschooled and continue to play on the school’s sports team.
“We have concerns about the ones who may abuse the system,” he said.
Dolan said the bill extends the privilege to students attending private schools that are not governed by the commission.
“My opinion is, if a school has an opportunity to be a member (of the commission) and they choose not to be a member for whatever reason, they’ve given up the right for those students to play,” he said.
Wood County Schools Superintendent John Flint, who spent 20 years as the athletic director at Parkersburg South High School, said he is keeping a close eye on the bill and the state Legislature.
“In theory, I understand the reasoning behind the legislation, but in practice I see a whole lot of problems with implementing the ruling fairly,” Flint said.
Among those problems, Flint said, would be ensuring eligibility for home-schooled students while keeping public schools from actively recruiting among the smaller private schools.
“You are opening up an area of athletic recruitment we haven’t seen in a while,” he said.
But Flint added the school system would not oppose the state Legislature.
“If the legislation becomes law, Wood County Schools will implement and embrace the change,” he said.
Wood County Schools Finance Director Connie Roberts said it was too early in the process to know the impact of the bill, but said financially she does not see much of an effect on the school system. In West Virginia, public funds are not rerouted to private schools, but both private and home-schooled students do reduce the amount of funding received by the school system through the state aid formula.
“That funding is based on enrollment, and home-schooled students or those at private schools are not included in our enrollment,” she said.
John Merritt, director of federal programs for Wood County Schools, said some federal funding is directed toward private schools, though the majority goes for teacher training and professional development. Those federal funds also are directed toward teachers rather than the schools themselves, he said.
“No money is ever given to a private school by Wood County Schools,” he said. “We provide the services and the money (such as for special contracts or for professional development sessions) goes to the teachers directly.”
Roberts said in some cases Wood County Schools will contract with area private schools in areas such as transportation, but the private schools pay the public school system for those services.
Dolan said representatives of the commission spoke before the Senate Education Committee and plan to speak to delegates when the bill is assigned to a House committee.