When Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the state’s $62 billion, two-year budget into law on Sunday night, some homeschoolers were stunned to find out that tucked inside was language (3313.5312) expanding the rights of homeschooled and private school students. They will now be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities in the public schools in their home districts, including high school athletics. Without debate or fanfare, legislators added an amendment in the finance committee before the final vote giving homeschoolers (and private school students whose schools do not offer a particular activity) the right to join their local public schools for extracurricular activities:
“A student who is receiving home instruction…shall be afforded, by the superintendent of the school district in which the student is entitled to attend school…the opportunity to participate in any extracurricular activity offered at the district school to which the student otherwise would be assigned during that school year.”
Rep. Dave Hall (R-Millersburg) inserted the amendment without objection. He told me on Tuesday morning that it was an open process in the finance committee rather than something slipped in at the last minute:
“I did it on the finance committee in front of many stakeholders. There was no behind the doors deal. It was basically up front. It was amended in and accepted by the committee…so we did use the process correctly.”
Hall said that his office had been working with local stakeholders in the homeschooling community in his district to draft a bill to give homeschoolers the right to participate in extracurricular activities, but saw an opportunity with the budget process. “We were reforming education on the funding side and so it was the perfect opportunity to put the amendment right into the budget.”
Hall’s Chief of Staff, Mike McGuire, who had been homeschooled and denied the opportunity to participate in high school athletics, helped move the issue: “He was a frustrated young man trying to get on the tennis team. He educated myself and many others on the issue.”
Prior to the new law, home educated students could only participate in extracurricular activities at their local schools if the school board permitted it.
Ohio’s districts offered a patchwork of policies, many of them banning participation altogether, while others required various levels of part-time enrollment as a condition for participation. The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) allowed home educated high school athletes to participate in high school sports only if their local school board permitted it and only “in accordance with the partial enrollment policy of a Board of Education.” The majority of districts in Ohio did not offer such a policy, severely limiting opportunities for homeschooled students to participate in high school athletics.
With the new law, every district in the state will now be required to permit homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities—including high school athletics. Like only ten other states, these students will now have equal access to expanded opportunities in their local public schools.
Also included in the new accessibility law are students who attend private schools. Such schools can’t always offer the wide array of extracurricular activities found at the taxpayer-funded public schools. The new law mirrors the legally required accessibility and equal access enjoyed by charter schools (called community schools) in Ohio.
The law does not require homeschooled students to attend the public school as a requirement for participation in activities. Hall said the senate tried to add language allowing superintendents to require part-time enrollment in school, but that language was struck from the final budget. The academic requirements for homeschooled students who wish to participate are simple: continue to “meet any academic requirements established by the state board of education for the continuation of home instruction.”
Those who fear that student athletes struggling in school will drop out to homeschool as a way to circumvent academic requirements need not be concerned. Those students will have their eligibility based upon their prior public school interim assessment reports. If a student withdraws from school for the purpose of homeschooling at a time he is academically ineligible to participate in extracurricular activities, he is ineligible for the remainder of the semester and must re-establish academic eligibility the following semester.
While other states (Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Virginia) have been trying to pass various versions of the “Tebow Bill” to give homeschoolers equal access to extracurricular activities (with slow progress thus far), Ohio legislators changed the state’s policy rather suddenly by quietly adding an amendment to the state’s budget.
This is sure to shake up both the homeschooling community (which isn’t universally in support of such measures) and the athletic world. But Hall says it is be a “win-win” for all involved:
“This allows good, quality education on both sides. And really, truly I think, relationship-building will be strengthened because people have the opportunity to work with the other students. I’m a former coach ‘way back when’ and when you’re a coach you don’t look at where they come from, who their parents are. You look at the individual. You don’t look at the background…I think it strengthens the area and the community by bringing kids together. That’s my belief.”