By: Richard Braun, RulingSports.com Intern (Twitter: @RicBraun)
On Monday, South Carolina became the 30th state to enact a version of what has become known as the “Tebow Law,” giving home schooled kids the opportunity to play sports for their local public school.
The Equal Access to Interscholastic Activities Act, as it is referred to in South Carolina, states that home schooled children “may not be denied the opportunity to participate in interscholastic activities” if they meet all school district eligibility requirements. The home schooled students further have to meet all of South Carolina’s rules regarding home school – things such as curriculum standards, being in class for at least four and half hours a day, and having access to a library.
The law commonly bears the name of Jets QB Tim Tebow, as Tebow took advantage this law while growing up homeschooled in Florida.[i] While South Carolina’s law has no limitations on it, a more common version of the law does not mandate school districts to allow home schooled kids to participate in sports. Instead, school districts are given the option of permitting home schooled kids participation. Proponents of the law believe that since home school parents pay taxes, they should still have access to public school programs. Further, many parents choose to home school their children for reasons that have nothing to do with the public schools in their area. Rather, some parents want to teach their children religious values in ways that public schools just are incapable of doing. They believe that their students should not have restrictions that keep them from playing organized sports for their local teams simply because their parents made a decision to home school them.
Despite the law’s growing popularity, opponents worry about some public schools recruiting top home schooled talent to their team. As a high schooler in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Tebow moved into a new apartment in a different school district in order to play for a team that ran an offense better suited to his abilities. Tebow won a State Championship his senior season at that school. State athletic associations have rules against recruiting, however there is little they can do if a student-athlete decides to move to a different school district. Opponents are rightfully worried about certain school districts being unfairly advantaged over others as a result of the new law.
The educational standards at home schools are another cause for concern. Students at public schools have set academic standards that they have to meet in order to maintain their eligibility. Home school students would have similar standards, however the quality of home schools are not universally high. Sure, many parents take the time necessary to ensure that their children receive a great education, but this is not always the case. Only 24 states even have standardized testing for home schooled children. Parents of kids in public schools worry that some students who are not held to the same academic standards as their children will make the team over regular students.
The interesting part about this is how little these laws have to do with Tim Tebow. He happened to take advantage of the law while in high school, but that is where his relationship to it ends. Apparently, however, that is enough for the media and politicians to run with it. In February, a Virginia politician championing the bill even “Tebowed” on the House floor after the bill passed in the state House. By putting a household name behind the bill, people who don’t know anything about it are much more likely to favor it. There are perfectly viable objections to the law, however more and more states seem all too eager to pass a law bearing Tim Tebow’s name.
[i] Florida did not enact this law because of Tebow but rather passed the law in 1996, when Tebow was nine years old.