By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Alabama legislators have sponsored a bill to make it easier for home-schooled students to participate in public school athletics — but local educators think the proposal is a major fumble.
The Senate met into the early morning hours Wednesday debating the bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Shadrack McGill of Woodville. The measure failed 10-21 at about 3 a.m., then Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, moved to reconsider the vote and carry it over. The procedural move gives McGill time to try to garner more support, but Marsh said he doubted that would happen before the legislative session ends.
Proponents argue the parents of home schooled students pay taxes and their children should have equal access to activities in public schools, while opponents say the change could destroy the high school athletic system.
The bill was inspired by and named for former Heisman winner Tim Tebow, who was home-schooled and faced challenges with the public school athletic system in his native Florida.
Cullman City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris said she is “vehemently opposed” to the bill, saying it could create myriad fairness issues in locals schools that principals and coaches would have to address.
“The schools are held accountable for test scores, but those students would not be participating in the school setting,” she said. “They would not be enhancing the school culture, leadership, or participating in academic classes as a role model for other students, or participating in accountability testing ... It’s unfair, and how do you believe parents, who are a part of the school and community, will respond to having someone not enrolled to walk on that field and take their son or daughter’s place? I hope they’ll listen to coaches, teachers and superintendents, and hopefully entertain these opinions.”
In the wake of a recent bill that opens the door for public school families to receive tax credits to attend private schools if they come from a failing district — which virtually every educator in the state opposed — Harris said the “Tebow Bill” could do even more damage by putting an additional strain on public schools.
“With the flexibility bill the legislature passed recently, allowing students to leave failing schools and sending public money to private schools, this bill would allow students not enrolled in public school to come and participate in sports. That is unfair.”
Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said he is also opposed to the home-school athletics bill, saying it makes the public school system like a smorgasbord for families to only select certain areas in which they wish to participate.
“I believe if you decide to be in the public school system, that’s great, and if you want to home school that is fine, too,” he said. “But, you can’t pick and choose. Things like band and athletics are privileges, not rights.”
* The Associated Press contributed to this report.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.