In Kentucky, homeschools are legally considered private schools. Local school districts may allow private school students (including homeschooled students) to enroll part-time or to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics. However, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) requires student athletes to be “full time” students at the school they represent, and prohibits them from being enrolled in any other school, such as a private school (which includes homeschools). This means that while school districts technically could allow homeschooled students to participate in high school athletics, those students would not be allowed to play in any official matches. This effectively bars homeschooled students from participation in athletics at any public high school.
Homeschooled children in some states have had access to public school athletics since the 1970s, and recent legislative trends reveal a continued expansion of this access to other states. Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee each removed barriers to homeschooled students’s sports access in 2013, as did Alaska and South Carolina the year before. Currently, homeschooled students are prohibited from having access to public school athletics in 21 remaining states. In each of those states, the situation is the same as Kentucky’s: the state’s high school athletic association requires student athletes to be enrolled full-time in the school for which they play.
There is a chance that this may finally change for Kentucky. Last week Representative Stan Lee of Lexington, Kentucky, pre-filed a homeschool sports bill for the state’s 2015 legislative session. This bill would allow private school students (including homeschooled students) to participate in extracurricular activities, including athletics, in their local public school districts. While the text of this bill has yet to be released, it is likely similar to HB 179, a 2009 bill that failed to pass.
The KHSAA has responded negatively to the proposed bill. Their objections are typical: funding, the limited number of slots available, academic eligibility, and the potential for cheating. Some of their concerns may be related to the text of the specific bill, which may change during the committee process. Homeschooled students already have access to public school athletics in dozens of states, and those states have found ways of handling these oft-repeated objections. In these states, state law allows the school district to set its own standards for homeschooled students’ academic eligibility; prohibits public school students who withdraw to be homeschooled after landing on academic probation from participating in public school athletics for a certain period of time; and requires homeschool parents to pay their children’s fees and/or provides schools with additional state funding for homeschool participation. The 2009 bill that failed to pass left room for all of these things.
VAHomeschoolers, located in Virginia, offers some of the most comprehensive information on homeschooled students’ sports access, most geared specifically towards the hoped-for passage of a Virginia sports access law. But in 2012, the organization conducted a survey of state athletic associations in states that allow homeschoolers to have access to public school sports, providing an interesting overview of how homeschool sports access works out in practice across the country. The respondents reported that the number of homeschooled students participating in public school athletics was small, suggesting that concerns about homeschooled students taking large numbers of coveted spots are overblown. Further, while the respondents did catalog some local resistance to homeschoolers’ sports access, they had no major concerns with the policy overall, felt that the policy had been implemented successfully, and expressed no desire for overturning it. It seems that once sports access is in place, state athletic associations tend not to find it the problem they originally thought it.
We at CRHE support policies that make public school resources available to homeschooled students, including part-time enrollment, athletics participation, special needs services, and other extracurriculars. We support such policies because they expand the opportunities available to homeschooled students, not just athletically or academically but also socially. Further, we believe that a positive and cooperative relationship between public schools and homeschool families is in the best interests of everyone involved.
We believe that homeschool—public school cooperation and resource-sharing improves the lives of homeschooled students without taking from the public school students around them. In many communities, homeschooled students have few options for athletic competition, especially during the high school years. We don’t think homeschooled students should have to choose between their preferred educational option on the one hand and athletic competition on the other. We see no reason not to open public school activities, including classes, athletics, and other extracurriculars, to homeschooled students.
We welcome this development and wish the bill success in the upcoming 2015 session.