Summit suggested for homeschool bill

Supporters of homeschoolers having the right to play in public schools are counting Wednesday’s public hearing before the Alabama Senate Education Committee a success.

Sen. Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), chair of the Education Committee, recommended that a homeschool summit to convene so that those on both sides of the issue can work out their differences, said bill sponsor, Sen. Hank Erwin, R-Montevallo.

The bill, Senate Bill 305 or the Tim Tebow Act, would give homeschool students the right to register and participate in public school extracurricular activities, sports teams and band. The bill does not guarantee a spot on a team, but the chance to try out after the student’s academic and disciplinary standards meet the local public school’s requirements and all necessary fees are paid.

Figures’ suggestion of a summit is a huge step in the right direction, Erwin said.

“I was beginning to think we’d need to wait until after the general election of 2010 and get some more Republicans on the Senate Education Committee,” Erwin said. “Today’s action gives me even greater encouragement that we’ll see something even sooner than that. I think it’s a warming up and acceptance that homeschooling is here to stay and is not going to go away.”

Erwin said the Star Wars room on the third floor of the State House in Montgomery was full with an overflow crowd stretching into the hallway.

Chelsea homeschool mother Nancy Smith was one of about 20 homeschool parents and teens from Shades Mountain Independent Church Academy, a homeschool umbrella school in Hoover. In attendance on the opposing side included Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Dr. Paul Hubbert and Steve Savarese, the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, among others.

Smith, who was attending her first public hearing on the issue, said the main points she heard from the opposition were “a little troubling – the concerns about academic standards and truancy issues.”

But just as Smith points out, the bill addresses those, as they are listed in the synopsis and in Section 1. A PDF version of the bill can be downloaded from TimTebowBill.com for reading.

Smith said while she felt most of the opposition’s arguments were invalid, one was still valid.

“One of the arguments is that homeschoolers have made their choice. They’ve left and therefore they’ve given up their right to any kind of public education at all. I understand that. I can see where they’re coming from, but I believe we can make that work,” Smith said. “If half the states in the Union are doing this, then look at what they’re doing. It must be working.”

Since the bill was first introduced in 2006, Erwin said the issue has faced resistance, but this year was different.

“In the last few years we have faced a very hostile reception, but this year was a very good reception. The parents and the students that spoke presented a very good case for homeschooling, and the senate education committee sat up and took note,” Erwin said. “There’s still a lot of resistance, but the ball is still in play and we’re moving it down the field. In football terms, we’re at midfield and on offense.”

Erwin said he hoped to speak with Figures by next week to schedule the summit.