Stephen Howsley of the Texas Home School Coalition offers a different view. He concedes that not all taxpayers use public school resources, but believes people should have the option. He told me Texas homeschoolers save the state “somewhere in the area of $2 billion” annually but “are not able to use just one, tiny sliver of that money that’s going directly into the school district.” The Texas Legislature has many times considered and ultimately failed to pass a Tebow bill.
Technically, a Texas homeschool student could take a few public school classes and then gain entrée to district resources. But other state regulations require students seeking athletic eligibility to receive an average of at least four hours of public school instruction per day, essentially making them half-time public school students.
Under Texas’ 1984 “No Pass, No Play” law, public school students are restricted to eight hours of practice per week outside of school time and an average of 60 minutes per day within school hours. If a Tebow bill were to become law in Texas, administrators may find it difficult to adhere to that statute. Harrison wonders how school officials would “verify that the [homeschool] student is not spending four hours a day at the golf course with his golf pro.”
Howsley, though, notes what many parents recognize: Employers and colleges often prefer students who have been on a team. “They like seeing that a student has been able to work with a group of other people cooperatively.”
While homeschool athletic leagues, club teams, or even YMCA activities are an option for some families, distance or cost are barriers to others. Howsley recalls hearing from parents in rural areas who drove over an hour each way for practice and games several times a week to participate in a homeschool league. And annual dues for club sports teams in North Texas can hit $10,000 for line items like coaches’ salaries, gear, team travel, tournament fees, and practice facilities.
AS IT TURNS OUT, SOME HOMESCHOOL PARENTS, cautious of increased government oversight, also oppose Tebow bills.
When Indiana state Rep. Timothy Wesco, a Republican, introduced a Tebow bill in the Hoosier State, he expected pushback from school administrators and the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), the state’s governing body for athletics. Instead, he found fellow pro-homeschool lawmakers opposing the plan.
“Among the conservative homeschool ranks, there was a concern that this would lead to increased [state] regulations,” Wesco said.
State Sen. Dennis Kruse, a Republican and homeschool parent who had been a primary opponent of the 2011 legislation, told me he was also concerned about exposing homeschool students to potentially unwholesome “locker room talk.”
“Why would you want to expose them to that world when they’re not ready for it?” Kruse asked.
The bill also saw resistance from homeschool sports teams, who worried they would lose their best players to public schools, where such students might get more visibility.
Ultimately, at Kruse’s prompting, Indiana lawmakers made a deal with the IHSAA: Homeschool students who enroll in one public school class, take standardized tests, and meet basic eligibility requirements may participate in public high-school sports, at the principal’s discretion. In return, Indiana schools would receive additional funding to address the added expense of more student athletes.
The Indiana rule only allows homeschoolers to compete in public school sports if they have been home educated for at least three years. That way, Wesco said, a jock freshman can’t leave the public school to train in the gym all day under the guise of homeschooling.
BACK IN TEXAS, MANY HOMESCHOOL FAMILIES have found opportunities in community-based, individual athletic programs despite the lack of access to public school facilities.
In Dallas, homeschooling has afforded Charity Stark’s family a more flexible schedule for practices and competitions. Now Allie, 9, is thriving in gymnastics (16 hours of practice per week) and swim team, while 11-year-old Ryan swims and ranks as a third-degree brown belt in karate.
Athletics is a worthwhile discipline, Stark says, because of the physical, mental, and emotional growth she’s seen in her kids: “It creates an all-around person.”
Meanwhile, Howsley says his group will continue to advocate for a Tebow bill during Texas’ next biennial legislative session, beginning in January 2019. The bill passed the Texas Senate during the prior three legislative sessions, but stalled in the House Public Education Committee.
“In general, the people in that committee are very much in favor of public school, which is great,” Howsley says. “We are not about abolishing public schools, but we are for school choice and giving parents the freedom to choose how to use their education dollars.”
Where are they now?
College admissions officers now know that homeschoolers are often high performers. In 2014, nearly 14,000 homeschooled seniors had SAT critical reading scores 14 percent higher than the average scores in reading for all college-bound seniors, 2 percent higher in math, and 10 percent higher in writing. Homeschool pioneers, though, often had to fight prejudice. Here are five of their stories: