Orange County home-schoolers could get the chance to play on public school sports teams if two bills pass the North Carolina General Assembly.
House Bill 253 would allow home-schooled students to participate in the athletic program of the public school they would normally be enrolled in based on residency.
Senate Bill 361 is less exclusive and would allow students from public, private, charter and home schools lacking an athletics program in any sport to participate at the closest school’s program.
Both bills have passed their first readings and have been referred to committees for further evaluation.
Orange County Schools barred home-schoolers from participating in public school extracurriculars in September after principals asked for clarity on this issue.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Avery, is a primary sponsor of the senate bill and said he filed it on behalf of his constituents, who have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to play on public schools’ sports teams.
“I believe sports are a part of our communities, and I don’t like policies that prevent people from participating in them when they pay the same amount of taxes as everyone else,” Hise said.
Lynne Millies, an Orange County resident who home-schools her children, said she supports the bill.
“In high school, there isn’t a youth recreational league available,” she said. “That’s a definite need.”
Hise said many groups, including the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, are opposing the house bill because of cost and liability.
The house bill would require home-schooled students to pay any fees that enrolled public school students would pay to be on a team. The senate bill does not include any details on payment.
But County Board of Education member Anne Medenblik said tax money is not the issue at hand.
“If 100 home-schoolers decided to play sports at our schools, we get no funding, not a dime,” Medenblik said. “Yes, they pay their taxes, but we don’t get those taxes unless they enroll their students.”
The county receives money from the local, state and federal governments based on the number of students enrolled divided by the number of days school was in session.
Medenblik said the county usually gets about $8,000 to $9,000 per student, which can go toward extracurricular fees.
“So if we have three or four home-school students playing on our teams, we have to spread the dollars more thinly,” she said.
Spencer Mason, president of North Carolinians for Home Education, said home-schoolers have had mixed reactions to the bills.
“Some people don’t want anything to do with the public school system,” Mason said. “But others are excited that they’ll be able to benefit from the public schools that they pay taxes for.”
Mason said the organization is neutral but will support the bill if it includes specifics on the regulations that home-schooled students would have to meet to join a team.
Medenblik said although she doesn’t think the law would have a big impact in Orange County, she still opposed it.
“It shouldn’t be like a cafeteria, where you can pick and choose,” she said. “If you make the decision to home school, to insulate yourself from the world, it doesn’t make sense that you would jump back in just for sports.”
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