SB640 UIL/Tebow Bill – Let’s break it down

We’ve thoroughly reviewed the SB640 (UIL/Tebow) Bill, as well as the UIL and TEA rules that govern extracurricular activities for public school students. Here are some of the issues and questions I have after comparing the participation and eligibility rules. It’s a bit lengthy, but we tried to be thorough. Further concerns and analysis will come in a later post. Let’s start from the top of the bill and work our way down.

A.     Section (a) of SB640 starts by saying, “In this section, “home-schooled student” has the meaning assigned by Section 29.916.”

Section 29.916 of the Texas Education Code says, “(1) “Home-schooled student” means a student who predominantly receives instruction in a general elementary or secondary education program that is provided by the parent, or a person standing in parental authority, in or through the child’s home.”

Homeschool is protected as unaccredited private school. Public school is public school. The law has been clear that there should be a wall of separation between the two entities both in funding and in authority. Responsibility is tied to authority. How can homeschool parents, who have elected to remove themselves from the public system, hope to maintain “ultimate authority” of their school when it is the taxpayer who is now responsible for providing educational opportunities? Government intercession comes with public money, as well as the interest of the taxpayer. Is it discrimination to not allow other private school students to now compete for and against public schools in UIL activities since an exception has been made for homeschoolers under the reasoning of providing “choice”? Will this now result in a new category of “homeschooler” in Texas? Under Leeper, homeschool parents won their case to legally educate their children at home, free of government intervention, under the equal protection clause (see below).

Private schools in Texas have previously sued to be able to participate in UIL activities and compete against schools under UIL rules. They lost their court cases. For example, Cornerstone Christian School, a private Christian school in San Antonio, sued to participate in UIL under equal protection and lost. I bet that changes now. What are the legal ramifications of allowing one selective group of students access to UIL activities in public schools while maintaining a ban on another? See the Cornerstone court case and appeal here: Cornerstone Case

B.     Section (b) of SB640 starts by saying “(b) Except as provided by Subsection (g)…”. Here’s subsection (g): “A home-schooled student is not authorized by this section to participate in a league activity during the remainder of any school year during which the student was previously enrolled in a public school.”

I believe this rule is intended to be consistent with the rule found in UIL Constitution Section 443 (below). Presumably, if this bill becomes law, this rule will be waived in the Fall Semester 2017 to allow homeschoolers immediate access to UIL activities.  

C.     Section (b) continues by stating, “…participates in an activity sponsored by the University Interscholastic League shall provide a home-schooled student, who otherwise meets league eligibility standards…” and Section (c) says, “A home-schooled student who seeks to participate or who participates in a league activity on behalf of a school is subject to the following relevant policies that apply to students enrolled in the school: policies regarding registration, age eligibility…”

Most supporters of SB640 are not familiar with the UIL rules or public school registration policies that they will be forced to comply with to participate. This bill generically calls out homeschool compliance with the policies, but doesn’t inform you what you those are. Let’s review some of the UIL & TEA rules that are clearly called out on their own, but are only implied in SB640.

Note the subsections that call out rules for attendance, credits compliance, and years of eligibility (based on your age in school).

Note who is the authority for eligibility rules – TEA, who can change the rules at any time without the need for legislative approval.

Following UIL rules, participating homeschool students will have to align their school calendar to meet the UIL attendance rules. They will have to keep records of attendance for their students that show they are “full time students” per UIL’s definition. Additionally, parents will be required to assign credit hours to their student’s work that reflects the same credit schedule as the public school, as this determines “credits earned”, a requirement for advancing to the next grade and being eligible to compete.

We assume participants will be required to use the same grading method and schedule to reflect the one local public school uses, as UIL is clear you cannot use “one method for some students and another for others”.

For those who have concerns about immunizations, the Texas Education Code 25.002 states above you must have your student immunized according to state requirements in order for your child to be allowed to participate in public school activities.

It’s sad that eligibility status is placed higher in priority to some than the emotional, psychological, or social development of a student.

D.     Section (d) states in part, “As a condition of eligibility to participate in a league activity during the first six weeks of a school year, a home-schooled student must demonstrate grade-level academic proficiency on any nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment instrument, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, California Achievement Test, or Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills.”

This section of the bill was added as a concession to some folks who balked at homeschoolers not proving they are academically on par with their public school counterparts. Many, including some legislators on the Senate Education Committee, used phrases like needing to have some sort of “accountability” on homeschoolers. In section 411 of the UIL Constitution, it states that public school 9th graders should be promoted from the previous grade. 10th-12th graders need only to earn the required credits that count toward graduation (see below).

Presumably, that grade must be above a 70% to be considered a passing grade, although TEA/UIL allows that a school can set a stricter standard (see below). Under SB640, homeschoolers would be required to pass a standardized test every two years, as well as pass all their courses. This is an unequal standard with the greater burden placed on homeschoolers. 

There seems to be some misinformation circulating, mainly from THSC and repeated by our legislators, about the STAAR requirement vs. No Pass No Play to be eligible to participate in UIL activities through the public schools.

STAAR is a Texas standardized test used for performance assessment and administered to students in 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 8th grade. It is not an annual test given to all students in every grade and does not influence UIL eligibility. UIL governs children from 7th-12th grade (and in some cases, 6th graders), thereby ruling out any governance of elementary children who participate in STAAR testing.  The final STAAR test is given to 8th graders. They must pass the test or follow the “grade placement committee (GPC)” guidelines to demonstrate grade-level proficiency (see below). Again, this doesn’t affect UIL eligibility because if an 8th grader does not pass the STAAR or cannot meet GPC standards agreed upon to show academic mastery prior to the start of 9th grade, the student may not be promoted to the next grade. The fact that a 9th grade student is enrolled suggests that they’ve already meet promotion eligibility standards set by whatever school they matriculated from whether it was a private, public, charter, or homeschool. Why must homeschoolers be required to pass a standardized test to prove they have met some arbitrary standard?

“No Pass No Play” is the rule that TEA and UIL uses to determine participation in public school extracurricular activities, again for 7th-12th graders (see below). It’s based on students passing their required classes set forth by the Texas Education Code that earns accumulated credits towards high school graduation.

E.     Section (e) A home-schooled student’s demonstration of academic proficiency under Subsection (d) is sufficient for purposes of that subsection for the school year in which the student achieves the required score and the subsequent school year.

According to THSC, STAAR determines a student’s eligibility to participate in UIL activities. See the below screenshots of public statements by Jeremy Newman of THSC (and its PAC).

Four things come to mind about these statements made by THSC representatives:

  1. We know the statements about STAAR vs. NPNP are not true, but if they were, that’d be discriminatory against the public school kid who would have had to show eligibility annually by passing a standardized test, in this case STAAR, while homeschoolers would not. I’m not inviting additional testing requirements on homeschoolers, but I find it odd that SB640 supporters keep using the terms “fair” and “choice”. There would have been nothing fair about that scenario.
  2. Additionally, notice Jeremy Newman’s comment in the second screenshot above that said we don’t have the right to tell other people they’re not allowed to participate. Here was my response to that ridiculous statement, “You are correct in saying public schools are very different than home schools which is why we opted out of the system. I am right to be concerned about a legislation that is both discriminatory towards homeschoolers and an open door to trample our homeschool freedom. The government doesn’t have the best track record of preserving personal freedom. As a former supporter of THSC, I recall many notifications saying that your organization opposed certain legislation simply for being a possible conduit for future regulation on homeschoolers. I am confused why you now taut the opposite stance because you authored the bill. I’m not being argumentative; I ask this in earnest. I also am compelled to oppose any homeschooler and any organization who is willing to squander the hard work it’s taken these past years to preserve our homeschool freedom so others can eat at the trough of public schools again. It’s shortsighted, and dare I say, selfish. If they want to participate in public school activities, then they are welcome to enroll in public school. Why be willing to jeopardize our homeschool freedoms for that? It’s the same as SB3 in that with public money come government strings. Always. What will you say to those members when new legislation comes down the pipe in the future that wants to use the SB3 and SB640 passage to bring homeschoolers under a new definition and add regulation to us? “Who could of “knowed”? Why didn’t anyone warn us this could happen?”
  3. We need to stay vigilant that “homeschooling” isn’t co-opted to create new categories of homeschool, like K-12 that is actually public school at home. We are VERY different and yet they seem to call themselves homeschoolers. No, they are participating in public school – from home. We do not want to get caught up in this category where the government can now say, “Well, other homeschoolers are OK with standardized tests and government accountability”.
  4. If you want to homeschool, you have made a choice. If you want to participate in UIL athletic activities, enroll in public school. If you want to participate in other extracurricular UIL activities, make your school district allow all students to participate. Did you know that many homeschoolers and private schools already participate in UIL activities without the need for SB640? See links for examples. TMEA Allows HomeschoolersHouston Redemptive Homeschool AcademyLubbock Homeschool Christian Athletic AssociationConroe SATCH Homeschool Academy & a private school Houston Victory Prep Academy

Also, private schools and homeschoolers can already compete in extracurricular activities under at least three other organizations – TCAF, TCAL, and TAIAO

F.     Section (f) partially states, “After the first six weeks of a school year…must periodically, in accordance with the school ’s grading calendar, provide written verification to the school indicating that the student is receiving a passing grade in each course or subject being taught.”

Again, reference Section B above where we discuss the grading system. As a reminder, the rule says schools can’t use different methods of grading. How does that apply to homeschoolers? Will we have to now adjust the way we grade to meet the local public grading methods/standards? What does “written verification” mean? It’s vague. Is it a letter from the parents that states the homeschool student is passing all courses according to our own standards? Is it a report card listing all the homeschool student’s courses, credit awarded, and corresponding grade? Below is the required curriculum for Texas public schools under the Texas Education Code, Section 28.002. Because grades are aligned with credits earned to graduate, how can homeschoolers be held to the same standard? Our curriculum may be very different.

G.     Section (g) states, “A home-schooled student is not authorized by this section to participate in a league activity during the remainder of any school year during which the student was previously enrolled in a public school.”

This basically means that if a public school student leaves their public school during the school year in order to homeschool, they are not going to be allowed to continue competing in sports that year. This is consistent with the UIL rules that prohibit students from transferring schools mid-year and continuing to participate. Some waivers are available based on extenuating circumstances (parental divorce and relocation, etc.)

H.     Section (h) says “The University Interscholastic League may not prohibit a home-schooled student from participating in league activities in the manner authorized by this section.”

In short, this means that UIL can’t stop anyone from participating in public school activities as long as they follow the guidelines under SB640.

I.      Section (i) With respect to a home-schooled student’s education program, nothing in this section shall be construed to permit an agency of this state, a public school district, or any other governmental body to exercise control, regulatory authority, or supervision over a home-schooled student or a parent or person standing in parental relation to a home-schooled student beyond the control, regulatory authority, or supervision required to participate in a league activity.

How far can UIL go to say what its regulatory authority means – can it tell eventually tell homeschoolers they must teach the required courses or tests that all other public schoolers have to take? Can UIL amend its rules to give itself greater authority? Since TEA was given delegation authority by the state, can they change their rules that would affect the implementation of SB640?

J.     Section (j) “Subject only to eligibility requirements under this section for a home-schooled student to participate in a league activity:

–          the curriculum or assessment requirements, performance standards, practices, or creed of the education program provided to a home-schooled student may not be required to be changed in order for the home-schooled student to participate in a league activity; and

–          for a home-schooled student participating in an education program on January 1, 2017, the education program provided to that student may not be required to comply with any state law or agency rule relating to that education program unless the law or rule was in effect on January 1, 2017.”

Again, it doesn’t say the UIL cannot regulate which classes are required, etc. It says it can’t dictate which curriculum we use as homeschoolers, but it doesn’t say it can’t require homeschoolers to comply with which classes to take.

K.      SECTION 2. This Act applies beginning with the 2017-2018 school year.

If this bill passes, it’d subsequently take effect a couple of months later. What is the cost to public schools to allow home schoolers to participate? The Fiscal Note says that they don’t foresee costs associated at the state level, but costs could be passed on to the local school and its district. How will public schools and districts deal with that since their budgets are usually forecasted and set for a multi-year period? How does it affect eligibility the first year it’s implemented? I should think that some homeschoolers are going to have to scramble to meet eligibility requirements (aligning their grading, testing, possibly issues with residency, etc.). It may preclude them from participating the first year. It may be a non-issue for most.