For a second year Kentucky state representative Stan Lee (R-Lexington) is introducing a bill that would permit homeschooled children to participate in public school athletics. Nicknamed the "Tim Tebow" bill after the famous quarterback who was homeschooled but allowed to play high school football in Florida, Lee's proposed legislation would let any child educated in a "nonpublic" school setting participate in public school athletics if their own school does not provide a particular extra curricular activity.
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association opposes the measure, and House Education Committee chair Derrick Graham (D-Frankfort), a persistent defender of the government's monopoly on education, says he will oppose it as well. Opponents cite the difficulties of establishing academic eligibility for homeschooled students and the risk that students who do attend the school might be cut from teams or lose playing time to homeschooled students who just participate in athletics.
I've written elsewhere about how outdated policies regarding athletic eligibility can hamper good educational practice and doing what's right for kids, and this is probably another example, though it's the most legitimate argument opponents of Rep. Lee's bill can muster. I don't have a strong opinion about the "Tim Tebow" bill per se, but I do think it's high time we rethink our attitude toward homeschooling in the larger educational landscape and the all-or-nothing choice we force families to make.
The bottom line is that homeschooling families pay taxes to support the local public schools just like everyone else. As a fundamental point of fairness, why shouldn't these families be able to get some direct educational benefit from their tax contributions?
The current educational system, which I have served for 20 years, empowers professional educators and institutions with the vast majority of control over who gets taught, what they get taught, and how. Parents, by and large, must take what is offered - or if they have the financial means, leave it for homeschooling or non-public school options.
We need to begin shifting that emphasis, empowering families to take a larger role in the learning process, creating a richer educational marketplace, and giving all families the ability to customize their child's education based on their individual needs and preferences.
We need to see education as a public good (see "why school choice" in my recent post), and support it accordingly, but that doesn't mean all learning is best delivered by a government-run school. Families should have more control over the tax money allocated for their children's education, and should be able to create a personalized learning plan for their children through a kind of "a la carte" menu of schooling choices. See my recent post on education savings accounts (ESA) for an example of how this might work from a policy standpoint.
Every family should be able utilize their local government-run school district on a service-by-service basis, but also use their ESA to access tutoring services, online courses, vocational training, etc. As one education writer put it, a student "might study algebra online with a private tutor, business in a local entrepreneur's living room, literature at a community college and test prep with the national firm Princeton Review," and perhaps take band class or study Spanish at their local public high school. And maybe even play football.
And why not? We all pay taxes to the local, state, and federal government to support education. If we have children, why should we not have some say in how those tax dollars get spent? And why should government-run schools be the only option? Think parents are too stupid to make these decisions? Then you might be guilty of educational paternalism, and should reconsider.
I suspect the opposition to Rep. Lee's bill is more about the general prejudice against homeschooling on the part of professional educators, who also have enormous political and cultural influence. And yet, research makes it clear that millions of families are now successfully homeschooling their children outside of the educational system. This fact should make us reconsider our assumption that the large, government-run model of factory schooling is necessary, or even serves the public good of fostering a well-educated populace.
Government-delivery of education may remain a critically important part this revitalized educational marketplace, but it will be a choice and option among many others, not the best or only option for every family, and not a take-it-all-or-leave it service for anyone.