The Senate Education and Health committee this morning voted 7-8 to defeat a bill patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), which would have removed a significant barrier preventing home school students from trying out for public school sports teams. The bill was a top legislative priority for The Family Foundation. More than half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports, but at this point Virginia will not join that league.

Senator Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) joined the seven Democrats on the committee in opposition to the bill.

In committee this morning, Delegate Bell eloquently presented the bill, anticipating opponents’ arguments and masterfully debunking them. Delegate Bell explained that homeschoolers were not looking for a guaranteed spot on the team, but rather the ability to tryout. They were not looking to school shop, but rather tryout for their local high school team. And they were not looking to participate for free, but rather pay any expenses the coach deemed appropriate. Additionally included in the bill, localities retained the right to add requirements of their own and a four year sunset was included. As Delegate Bell explained, this was not an earthshaking change.

After Delegate Bell’s presentation, numerous homeschoolers were present to testify to their own academic prowess and athletic ability. Several talked about being able to participate with their friends through 8th grade only to be denied the same opportunity once they reached high school. A former homeschooler, Josh Harrison, who was drafted by and currently plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league system, pleaded with the committee to “give these kids a shot” and reminded the committee that if denied the opportunity to play, these homeschoolers will never get that opportunity back. Josh was accompanied by his former teammate who went to public school who says he wishes he could have had Josh on his public school team. All of the presentations, including those of Josh and his teammate, were impressive and compelling.

However, the opposition did not agree. The education establishment (Virginia Education Association, Virginia High School League (VHSL), Virginia School Board Association, Virginia Superintendents Association, the Parent Teacher Association, etc.) turned out in full force to oppose the bill. During the testimony by the VHSL representative, Senator Tom Garrett (R-22, Hadensville), a member of the committee, read from the VHSL bylaws which state that the organization may not advocate for or against legislation! A frantic, audible wave rippled across the packed committee room. In response, the caught-out representative, who has testified and worked against the proposal for several years, could only manage, meekly and unconvincingly, that he was "just commenting" on the bill. Committee Chairman Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) challenged several of the opponents on their alleged support of "choice" for parents and families while opposing the choice to participate in public school sports.

Despite today's outcome, The Family Foundation, in conjunction with Delegate Bell and homeschool families across Virginia, will continue to advocate for the right of homeschoolers to try out for public school sports. The day is coming when this change will come — it’s only a matter of time. You can email Delegate Bell by clicking here to thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of this bill.