The debate that consumed the largest chunk of the House’s time yesterday afternoon was over House Bill 1120, which would require all public school districts to allow homeschool students to participate in SDHSAA activities.
For nearly a full hour, homeschool supporters and public school slammers (yes, there were subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the integrity of our public K-12 administrators and teachers) dominated the floor with arguments about fairness, parental control, taxpayer rights, superior home-school teaching and test performance, and opportunities for all children. Prime sponsor Rep. Sue Peterson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and her supporters punctuated their speeches with the well-chosen marketing line, “Let the children play!” Homeschool dad Rep. Tom Brunner (R-29/Nisland) said it was time for the walls between public school and high school “to be tore down.” Rep. John Mills (R-4/Volga) accused unnamed public school advocates of “bullying” and told the heartfelt story of kids from a tiny Christian school in Volga getting to ride the bus with public school kids and making everyone in the district happier.
Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) won the emotional debate with her story of coaching 4th- through 8th-grade girls basketball and letting a little homeschool girl practice with her team. The homeschool girl was shy and knew nothing about basketball, but Coach May saw her public school girls become coaches themselves, welcoming the new girl and helping her learn basketball basics. Then the big mean school super barged in an told Coach May the homeschool girls couldn’t practice with her team. Coach May took a stand: the homeschool girl stays and plays, or I walk. Given the lack of replacement coaches, the super caved, the homeschool stayed and played, and she and her team went on to be Badlands conference champs. And to beat all that, the year after she started playing, that shy girl enrolled in public school. Everybody wins! (Well, everybody except for the kids May’s team beat at the Badlands championship….)
Coach May’s story is a ready-for-TV movie. Anyone who would vote against that shy little girl turned basketball champ deserves three levels of hell and no chislic rations.
But vote against it a majority did. HB 1120 failed 28–38. Overcoming all the emotion of the homeschool advocates story was a simple argument advanced by attorney Rep. Mike Stevens (R-19/Yankton) and judge Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead). Under HB 1120, a homeschooler’s eligibility for SDHSAA activities depended on complying with SDCL 13-27-3, the statute allowing students to skip public school and do homeschool. That statute requires homeschoolers to receive instruction “so as to lead to a mastery of the English language” and to take a standardized test in fourth grade, eighth grade, and eleventh grade. HB 1120 would have made it impossible for schools to impose any sort of academic eligibility rules that public high school students must satisfy (no pass, no play). Rep. Stevens said HB 1120 would hold 13,306 public school activities participants to higher standards than homeschool players. In his imperious judge voice, Rep. Johns called that double standard and the absence of any verification of academic success for homeschool players a “fatal flaw.” He said playing sports and playing the orchestra is a privilege, not a right, and that HB 1120 was “reverse discrimination” against public school students.
Stevens responded to the HB 1120 marketing line by saying, “They can play” but by homeschooling, they choose not to. And for the several-th time in a debate that has raged since 2003, the Legislature chose not to dictate to local schools whether they must allow homeschoolers to participate in public school extracurriculars.