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'Tebow bill' gaining support in Virginia

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Politics,Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno,Tim Tebow

Virginia lawmakers are pushing again to allow home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at the state's public schools.

Republicans in both the House and Senate have filed bills that would force the Virginia High School League, the organization overseeing interscholastic activities in the state, to allow students taught at home to try out for their school district's sports teams.

Similar legislation passed the House of Delegates this year before dying in the Senate Education and Health Committee. But advocates say the legislation -- dubbed the "Tebow bill" after New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, a home-schooled student who played football at a local Florida high school -- has a better chance of passing next year because more parents are pulling their kids out of school to teach them at home.

The number of home-schooled students has jumped from 16,542 in 2003 to 22,255 in 2012, according to the state Department of Education.

Having Tebow as an advocate has helped, said Yvonne Bunn, director of legislative affairs for the Home Educators Association of Virginia. If Florida law didn't allow him to play high school sports, he might not have gone on to become a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida.

"All home-schoolers really want is an opportunity to try out," Bunn said. "They are taxpayers, they live in the school district. All they want to do is to have an opportunity."

Any interscholastic activity that falls under the Virginia High School League's oversight, like debate clubs, would be covered in the bill, as well. About half of all states allow students taught at home to play high school sports.

Opponents said the bill would strip opportunities from students who attend classes all day and are more invested in the school community. Some of that opposition is softening, however.

House Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, voted against the Tebow bill earlier this year but isn't sure he'll do that again when the legislature convenes again in January.

"I understand the argument that schools are communities, and the opponents would argue one shouldn't pick and choose what you participate in in the community," Toscano said. "But I don't have a terribly strong position, and I want to hear the argument again."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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