Finishing its 60-day legislative session last Saturday, Virginia’s General Assembly has proven an ideological battleground, with Democrats voting down nearly every Republican-presented bill, no matter how reasonable or representative of Virginians. On March 3, that mentality was front and center on the floor when Senate Democrats directed unnecessary insults and demeaning comments towards homeschoolers.
Equal Access Athletics, HB 511, a local school choice bill, would allow school boards to determine whether homeschool students in their district could participate in public school sports. Similar legislation, already law in 35 states, has been voted down by Democrats in Virginia for years.
In rural Virginia, where athletic recreational leagues and facilities are limited, this is an especially important option, said bill sponsor Del. Marie March, R-District 7. March described the local interest in developing relationships between homeschool and public school athletes as well as the limitations of rural locales. She pointed out that the inclusion of homeschoolers would also add another revenue stream for local schools to collect extra fees for athletics.
Rather than discuss the bill, Democrats responded with pointed insults, indicating that homeschool students are both lazy and undeserving of playing for the high schools their parents’ taxes support.
Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat representing parts of Fairfax and Arlington Counties, cited a former colleague, Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., who had described the inclusion of homeschoolers in local public school athletics as “those at home who can just lie on the couch and show up to compete.” Potts later referred to that comment as a “big mistake.”
“I think he had an excellent point then and I think this is very poorly thought out and I hope we’ll defeat it,” Howell said.
Fairfax senators’ hostility was on full display, with Sens. Dick Saslaw and Chap Petersen (Democrats representing parts of Fairfax County and surrounding areas Alexandria, Falls Church, and Fairfax City) adding to Howell’s rude remarks. Petersen quipped that “the city of Chesapeake knows they’ve gotta load up to get ready for the city of Fairfax, and change their rules to prejudice my boy,” in the upcoming football season.
It’s not a “level” playing field in the rural communities, March responded. “They might have enough people to have these high school teams if everybody out there wasn’t homeschooling their kids,” Saslaw said.
The bill was left to die in the Senate Education and Health Committee on March 3.
Schooling Senators on Homeschooling
It is elected representatives’ responsibility to be at the very least moderately educated on the issues they vote on. Here is some basic education on homeschoolers.
Homeschooled students score 31 to 37 percentile points above public school students on standardized achievement tests. All that “lying around” somehow results in outperforming their public school peers in academics, social development, and post-secondary school success. Seventy-eight percent of peer-reviewed studies on academic achievement show this outperformance.
Eighty-seven percent of peer-reviewed studies on social, emotional, and psychological development show homeschooled students perform better than those in traditional schools. Sixty-nine percent of peer-reviewed studies on success into adulthood, including college, show adults who were home educated outperform and succeed more than their traditionally schooled peers.
Of course, those are just facts and data.
Constituents in Fairfax County, whom Howell was elected to represent, have strong respect for homeschoolers as athletes and competitors. Many athletic leagues in the county already overlap and cater to the talent in this burgeoning group of athletes.
“In our state, we exist side-by-side with our public school colleagues, whom I admire and respect,” said John Bliss, president of the Fairfax Homeschool Athletic Association. “I’m sure some of their programs would love to have some of our players if they could. Many of our athletes also play club and travel sports for the same teams as their public school peers.”
Homeschooled athletes in Fairfax County represent a large and highly competitive youth population.
“Our teams typically play more games per season and travel more widely [than public-school athletes], including state and national tournaments, which we sometimes win. Most notably our varsity girls basketball team, which once ranked as the number one homeschool team in the nation,” Bliss said.
Homeschoolers, in similar percentages relative to public schools in sports, have gone on to play at the college level, winning Division 1 scholarships in some cases and occasionally reaching the professional level.
Amy Coffin is a former Virginia Tech Division 1 scholarship lacrosse player and chairman of a 10-sport kindergarten to 8th grade community sports recreation league. Coffin has been involved with the league for nine years as chairman, commissioner, volunteer coach, and parent. She also coached varsity lacrosse in Fairfax County at the high school level for six seasons.
“I have found that being homeschooled can sometimes allow families to work their school days to allow for more rigorous training, especially in individual sports such as gymnastics, horseback, or golf. In fact, families often choose to homeschool because it allows them to explore a broader learning environment, both from an academic and athletic perspective,” Coffin said. So much for lying around all day.
“As a volunteer coach, a civic-minded individual, and a seven-year homeschool mother of three healthy, athletic children, I am astonished that an elected representative would make such egregious comments about a group of individuals,” Coffin said of Howell. She and her husband chose to homeschool to give their kids the best educational foundation that they could, she said: “All three of our children are not only thriving in their first year of brick-and-mortar school for the ’21-22 year, but are leaders in their respective sports and top of their academic class.”
Homeschool families pay the same property taxes as those who attend public school, and incur additional expenses in the education of their children, Coffin noted. “It’s hard to imagine telling these parents that their children are not permitted to take part in athletic programs that they have helped to financially support. I would love the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with Sen. Howell and answer any questions she has about homeschool.”
Democrats Won’t Listen
Although the Home Education Association of Virginia (HEAV) remained neutral on the bill, the organization immediately published an email to patrons, encouraging them to contact Howell’s office and demand an apology.
When HEAV’s lobbyist attempted to meet and discuss homeschool achievement with Howell the day following her remarks, the organization says she was cut short. Howell didn’t appear interested in any dialogue with the state’s largest homeschool organization.
With a growing constituent base of homeschool voters, Democrats in Virginia may want to update their outdated, baseless prejudices.