RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe Feb. 20 vetoed the so-called “Tebow
bill” that would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in high
“Participation in athletic and academic competitions is a
privilege for students who satisfy eligibility requirements,” McAuliffe wrote
in vetoing HB 1578, sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville. “Opening
participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to
satisfy the same criteria codifies academic inequality in interscholastic
This is the third consecutive year that Bell has shepherded such
legislation through the General Assembly only to be stopped at the governor’s
The bill was nicknamed after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow,
who played football for a Florida high school while being home-schooled. The
bill would have allowed high schools to join only interscholastic programs that
welcomed home-schooled student athletes. If the bill had been enacted, the
Virginia High School League would have had to implement policy changes to
include home-schoolers alongside their public-school counterparts.
HB 1578 had passed the House 60-38 and the Senate 22-18. Earlier
in the session, McAuliffe had announced his intention to veto the legislation.
The governor has consistently joined opponents of the bill in saying that
home-schooled students are not be held to the same academic expectations set
for public school student athletes.
Bell’s latest bill had sought to address that concern. It said
home-schoolers would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence
of progress” in their academic curriculum for two years before qualifying to
play in a local high school’s sports team. They would also be expected to meet
the same immunization standards set by public schools.
In addition, under HB 1578, each school district would have had
the right to decide whether home-school students would be welcome in its high
school sports programs. This measure was meant to accommodate schools critical
of the change. But opponents like Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said it would
only complicate the system even more.
“The bottom line is, once Virginia High School League changes its
policy, every school division is going to have to match up with it, because
nobody is going to want to compete with half a loaf,” Petersen said. “I’ve got
some coaches in the audience that are here for state-winning championship
teams, and I know what they would say, not on the merits of the bill, but
simply that everyone has to play by the same set of rules.”
As a result of McAuliffe’s veto, the bill heads back to the
General Assembly. It will require a two-thirds majority vote from both the
House and Senate to override the veto.
Bell has pushed similar legislation since 2005 and says his
efforts are to make sure children who thrive in home-schooling environments are
not punished for it.
“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the
public-school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go
home-schooling, except many places, including a county I represent, have very
limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say,
‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”