By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The House Education Policy Committee held a public hearing on Wednesday, February 5 on the Equal Access To Athletics Bill sponsored by State Representative Mary Sue McClurkin (R) from Indian Springs. Rep. McClurkin said that the bill would allow Alabama students who study at home through parental home school, private tutor, or church school to participate in athletics or other extracurricular activities with the school where they would be zoned if they were actually enrolled in a public school.
The act is popularly referred to as the ‘Tim Tebow bill’. The State of Florida has had this legislation for over a dozen years, with the popular Heisman trophy winning college quarterback being the most famous athlete to participate in the popular program.
Over 80 people packed into a room with seating for ~34 for the public hearing. The crowd for the public hearing stretched far out into the hall.
Rep. McClurkin said that participants in the program will be held to the same standards as other athletes and participants. They would still have to make it through tryouts like the public school students. The current school board insurance would cover both groups of students and they would have to pay the same athletic fees.
Karen Millican told the Committee I am a home school mom of three this is not about me, but is rather about opportunities for children. Millican said that her son has played athletics with their local park league team for years. When he reached the seventh grade however he was not allowed to play only because existing rules do not allow him to play. This is a reasonable request. 31 states currently provide this for home school students. Millican said that she gave up a career as an architect to home school her children and that in Alabama the home school movement is predominately a faith based movement and they are an asset to the entire state
Jay Shriver said that being a home school dad presents some challenges. “Education is changing because innovations provide the best education.” “I believe in the high school athletic experience.” “Our local team is a community team not a school team,” and all children in the community should be given the opportunity to participate. “I have been doing this (promoting this legislation) for ten years and I am asking for your consideration.
Chris Millican said that is children are on the outside looking in and asked the Committee to allow them to participate.
Cary Woolern said that she is a certified teacher and a home school mom of three. Woolem said that we are fortunate that we can tryout and participate in athletics at a near by Christian school but that the AISA is changing regulations that may prevent her children from participating next year. “We are asking for equal access.”
Angel Hall said, “I have 3 children” and this is an individual rights issue. “Our forefathers were homeschooled.” Hall said she can not understand why her children are not allowed to participate. Hall said that her child is ahead of his peers academically in the public schools system and that home school children typically excel compared to public school educated children and will meet any challenge academically that the state asks for to prove their competence to compete. Hall said that the opposition is all about the money. Homeschoolers and the state would both benefit from passing this legislation.
Kelly Smith said that she is a dance school owner. “My son is way ahead (of his public school peers) and is doing college age work.” Smith said that her son owns land, a trailer and his own business. Smith said that her son has been an entrepreneur since he was eight and he loves sports and wants to compete. She also complained of restrictive new AISA rules.
Jim Chestnut said that he still opposes this legislation. Chestnut said that extracurricular activities grew out of being in school all day and that there are safety issues associated with having home school children arriving and leaving the campus during the school day.
Valley Howell said that she was there representing the Alabama School Boards Association and they were opposing this legislation over a philosophical belief. Howell told the room that was packed with home school parents, “If you want to participate then enroll in public schools.”
Steve Savarese said that he was there representing the Alabama High School Athletics Association (AHSAA). Savarese said that for 93 years the AHSAA has set policy for high school athletics without interference from the state legislature. Savarese said that his group is a private association and they have a legislative process for rule changes. “Participation in athletics is not a right. It is a privilege.” Savarese compared his group to the NCAA which regulates college athletics.
Lamar Brooke, the Associate Superintendent of the Dale County schools, also spoke against the legislation.
Rep. Ed Henry (R) from Decatur said, “The face of education is changing.” Florence already has a virtual online education school where students can take classes online. “Florence is ahead of the rest of the state and Baldwin County is considering doing the same thing.
Rep. Henry said, “We are definitely moving away from the brick and mortar school.” The future of education is going to be at home.
Rep. Elaine Beech (D) worried how the school can discipline the home school kids and predicted that this will encourage recruitment in high school athletics.
Rep. Henry said that there are stopgaps in place to prevent recruiting from being a problem. “The System does not like that there are people who can educate their children better than they can.” Henry said that this, “Is one piece of the pie that they are going to protect.
Savarese said that there are possible unintended consequences from passing this legislation.
Rep. Terri Collins (R) from Decatur said, “At this point we are worried about protecting bureaucracies rather than the best interests of the children.” Collins asked that the Committee give this bill a favorable report. The motion carried and the Equal Access too Athletic Bill received a favorable report.
The bill next will appear before the full Alabama House of Representatives for their consideration.