February 24, 2015

Homeschoolers & Sports Access

By Bellwether

Share this article

The issue of whether home school students should be able to play high school sports in the communities where they live is bubbling up again in Virgina. About 30 states offer some sort of access but fewer than 15 offer broad access. Virginia’s legislature passed a bill allowing access (with some conditions) and it’s now up to the governor to sign or veto.

I wrote about this issue a few years ago (here and here). With appropriate safeguards to ensure homeschooling isn’t used as a way to advance athletics I’m generally in favor of letting homeschoolers play. It’s a good way to tear down walls within education, bring people together, and broaden the pool of people with a stake in public schools. More importantly, while adults on all sides of this have their ideological issues – the kids just want to play. So if they’re good enough to make the team, why not let them? Not to put too fine a point on it but this is a classic case of adult baggage getting in the way of what’s best for young people.

Here are a few other wrinkles that don’t get as much attention but bear on the debate:

– The idea that the battle lines here are home school parents versus the education community is wrong. The education community is split on this and homeschoolers are as well. There are separate home school sports leagues and many in the home school world view the sports access issue as a camel’s nose under the tent toward more regulation of home schooling (Virginia has some of the most permissive home school laws in the country).

– The issue is not whether home school students get any guaranteed spot on a team, but rather whether they have an opportunity to try out.

– That’s why many coaches, especially in rural communities, are fine with allowing home schoolers to compete. Smaller schools and rural schools need every athletic kid they can get to be competitive. In suburban areas where there are more non-school based sports opportunities for kids and more players for coaches there is more opposition. That said, the politics around the issue in the education sports establishment are intense and when I was writing about this plenty of people expressed support – but were unwilling to go on the record. In Virginia opposition from powerful Northern Virginia education constituencies – where they don’t need home schooled kids to be competitive – could be a big factor in how the governor views the bill.

– The education community has strident debates about this but for everyone else it’s mostly a big yawn. According to VCU’s education poll 72 percent of Virginians supported allowing home schooled kids to play sports the last time the question was asked in early 2014. Only 24 percent were opposed.  Not surprisingly, current and former school employees were less likely to be supportive than the public overall. But, parents were more supportive than non-parents. Something that should give proponents hope: Younger voters (44 and under) are a lot more likely to support. Like other issues with a big generational split if the bill isn’t enacted now look for everyone’s views to “evolve” in a few years.

– Under current law there is a local option for home schooled students to take classes in public schools and last time I looked about half of Virginia counties offer the option. So the idea that there is some sort of impenetrable high wall between homeschoolers and public schools is at odds with the reality. And in states that allow home schooled students to play sports the overall impact has been negligible but it’s been meaningful for impacted students.

More from this topic

Thank you! Your subscription has been confirmed. You'll hear from us soon.