A bill that would have made it a state law to allow home schooled students to participate in public school interscholastic activities failed to pass the House Education Committee on Tuesday (March 26).

Known in the past as the “Tim Tebow Law” after the former University of Florida quarterback, House Bill 1789 by Rep. Mark Lowery (R-Maumelle) attracted only seven votes on the 20-member committee. Seven representatives voted no.

The Arkansas Activities Association, which governs interscholastic sports in Arkansas, voted in August to allow home schooled students to participate starting this upcoming school year. House Bill 1789 would have codified that into law.

Lowery argued that the measure is needed to provide greater protections than the AAA, which he called a “quasi-governmental organization.” Home schooled families pay taxes and deserve to be guaranteed participation in school activities, he said. He also said the measure could build bridges between public schools and home schoolers. “I think the main issue is we need to send a message to these students that they are wanted,” he said.

But opponents, including AAA Executive Director Lance Taylor, said the association’s new requirement should be given time to work. There were questions about home schooled students and public school students being held to the same testing and participation standards.

Home schooled students would be required to be in public school for one period a day because of catastrophic insurance requirements. Lowery said that districts would receive a fraction of per pupil state funding for each home schooled student. However, Dr. Tom Kimbrell with the Arkansas Department of Education and ADE attorney Jeremy Lassiter testified that the bill was unclear on what percentage that would be. Conceivably, a district would receive full state funding even if the student only was at school that one period.

Jerry Cox, president of the Family Research Council and the home school advocacy group Education Alliance, testified that there are about 16,000 home schooled students in Arkansas, but only about 5,000 are in grades 7-12, and most of those would not want to participate. “It’s not like there’s going to be swarms of home schoolers wanting to come over and participate.”

In other business, the committee voted against House Bill 1912 by Rep. Charles Armstrong (D-Little Rock), which would would have created a route-based formula for funding school transportation costs.

Current funding is based on the number of students in a district irrespective of how much it costs to transport them. The bill would have meant that about one-third of the state’s districts would have seen a drop in state funding. That led to concerns among opponents, including the Arkansas Department of Education, that the bill would affect adequacy funding adopted after the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Lake View decision.

Ron Harder, policy service and advocacy director of the Arkansas School Boards Association, testified that creating a route-based formula would be too limiting. Instead, the Legislature should undertake a comprehensive review of transportation requirements and funding.

“Bottom line, I think you need to look at it top to bottom,” he said.

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Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner

Steve Brawner is a freelance journalist and contributor to Talk Business & Politics. He is also a syndicated columnist in 10 Arkansas newspapers. You can email him at brawnersteve@mac.com or follow him on Twitter: @SteveBrawner.