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Op-Ed: Stop discrimination: Give equal UIL access to homeschoolers
By Trudi Fortune
Mar 19, 2019
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The UIL Equal Access bill, also known as the Tim Tebow bill, is the solution to a decades-old problem that has affected hundreds of thousands of Texas families. This bill (HB 1324 and SB 718) would allow Texas homeschoolers to participate in UIL extracurricular activities at their local schools. These activities range from athletics to academic extracurriculars like debate or
journalism.

When the University of Texas started the University Interscholastic League (UIL) in the early twentieth century, it was open to all students. However, eligibility requirements were quickly changed to only allow white public school students to participate.

Minority students were eventually allowed to participate once again.

However, homeschool students were still excluded from UIL and so it remains today.

Homeschoolers suffer this discrimination despite the fact that they pay property taxes to support UIL activities. During the 2017 Texas legislative session, one homeschool father said it best in a Texas Senate Education Committee hearing:

“If I chose not to pay property taxes this year to the local school district, my house would be taken away. But the local school district can choose not to allow me to participate or my kids to participate. Yet I have no recourse except to be here in this room…”

Rural and low-income families are disproportionately affected by their lack of access. Texas Home School Coalition estimates that there are 350,000 homeschool students in Texas. Approximately 22 percent to 31 percent of these homeschoolers live in rural areas, often with little or no access to extracurricular activities despite paying taxes for the activities at their local
public schools.

Furthermore, low-income families are frequently unable to afford both the taxes for public UIL activities and private sports leagues for their own children. Therefore, they have no options at all.

A survey of the Texas homeschool community showed 77 percent support for the UIL Equal Access bill. There was broad agreement across the political spectrum, which is abnormal in our polarized political culture.

Thirty-five other states, some with laws dating back nearly 50 years, currently allow homeschoolers equal access to extracurricular activities at their local school.

Despite concerns sometimes raised about the issue, none of those 35 other states have ever seen additional regulations as a result. That includes seven other states that are low-regulation states like Texas.

Additionally, the bill itself strictly prohibits any increase in regulations, stating that “the curriculum or assessment requirements, performance standards, practices, or creed of the education program provided to a homeschooled student may not be required to be changed in order for
the homeschooled student to participate in a league activity.”

If this bill passes, therefore, it will have absolutely no impact on homeschoolers in relation to their curriculum, class schedule, the manner in which classes are taught or parents’ control over their children’s education. Of course, a homeschool student would have to meet UIL eligibility requirements for participation (as with any other student). During the first six weeks of the school year, homeschooled UIL participants would have to present an average or above-average score on any nationally normed assessment.

After those six weeks, the student’s parent (as the teacher) would provide written verification that the student is passing their grades in order to retain eligibility. This matches the requirements for public school students. Within the same six-week period, public school students are required to prove grade advancement via STAAR testing. Thereafter, the student must maintain passing grades.

The bill recognizes the variation between public school and homeschool curriculum while achieving a fair standard by requiring all students to prove academic eligibility. It ensures that homeschool students pay the same fees and meet the same physical requirements as any other
student.

Additionally, to prevent cheating, the bill prohibits students from dropping out of public school only to join UIL as a homeschooler in that same school year. It prevents recruitment by allowing homeschoolers to participate only at the school which the student would otherwise attend.

Along with minority students, homeschool students were excluded from UIL over a century ago. Thirty-five other states have solved this problem with great success and without harm to either homeschoolers or the public schools.

The time has come for Texas to end this discrimination and join the 21st century by allowing homeschool families equal access to extracurricular opportunities funded by their own tax dollars.