For many years THSC has been working to change the law to allow home school students to take part in extracurricular activities in public schools. In the last legislative session, THSC and the home school community supported the passage of SB 1214, which would require that traditional private schools be allowed to compete with public schools in UIL. In fact, THSC has been given credit for moving the bill out of the Texas Senate after the bill was stalled.
With the help of home schoolers, that bill passed out of the Senate three times (once as a stand-alone bill and twice as amendments to House bills). The measure died in the Texas House due to opposition by the Chairman of the Public Education Committee. The bill’s authors had also agreed to accept an amendment in the House that would allow home school students to try out for public school teams in the districts in which they live.
The public school coaches and superintendents were in a feeding frenzy because they thought the measure was going to pass and become law. The Chairman of the Public Education Committee closed that door by holding the bill in committee until it was too late to pass while at the same time telling us he supported the bill. He was defeated in the Republican Primary with the help of THSC PAC.
About two weeks ago I was part of a meeting of private school advocates who discussed whether or not to move forward on this issue again in next year’s legislative session. At that meeting I learned about a meeting the previous week between UIL officials and private school officials in which they discussed establishing a private school division of UIL for private schools.
This week the Houston Chronicle reported on that meeting and its considerations. Some of the private school officials commented that they were surprised that the meeting took place and that they had never seen this level of openness on the issue from UIL officials.
Allow me to place this in political perspective. Public school coaches and superintendents have vehemently opposed private and home school participation for decades. They argue that allowing private schools to participate would “destroy the level playing field enjoyed now in UIL” because private schools “recruit.” This is demonstrably false.
Almost ten years ago two large, affluent private schools sued UIL, and the case was appealed to the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. A state senator convinced UIL to agree to allow these two schools to participate in UIL because it appeared that they were going to lose the case and “the flood gates would open and all private schools in Texas would be allowed in.” UIL agreed, and the two private schools have been competing in UIL for a decade without problem or complaint according to UIL officials.
In fact, UIL officials testified at a public hearing in the Texas House that they would not have a problem implementing such a law because they already have a plan in place. They also pointed out that public school “magnet schools,” which also “recruit” students from beyond their school boundaries, are treated in the same manner as the private schools: They are required to compete at one school size above their actual school size.
The opposition to allowing private and home school students to participate in UIL is indefensible, and the Texas Legislature was on the verge of changing the law in the last session. The opponents of this measure had a political “near-death experience” and they are once again faced with the reality that private schools might be allowed to compete. They have taken an action designed to keep that from happening…set up a “Private School Division” of UIL.
This “Separate but Equal” approach has occurred before in the state of Texas. The Texas legislature established the University Interscholastic League (UIL) in 1913 under the University of Texas, and its original constitution stated its purpose was to enhance the experience of the students of Texas through its activities in order that they might be better prepared to be good citizens of Texas. The original constitution of the UIL explained that it was open to all public and private school students, which included home school students.
UIL instituted discrimination in 1915 by changing its constitution to allow only public schools to participate, and then the next year further limited participation by allowing only “white public schools” to take part. That discrimination against black students forced the establishment of a separate organization through Prairie View A&M (Prairie View Interscholastic League [PVIL]) and the Negro School Division of the State Department of Education to oversee the black public school activities. This continued until the passage of the Federal Civil Rights laws forced the merging of PVIL and UIL in 1970.
Today UIL continues its history of seeking to discriminate against students who wish to participate in UIL, except today it is on the basis of the school that they attend. THSC and the home school community will continue to work this next session, along with other private schools, to see the law changed to allow all private school students equal access to UIL activities. The UIL website notes that “On January 26, 1965, PVIL Director Dr. C.D. Yancy and UIL Director Rodney J. Kidd met to discuss the feasibility of opening membership to all schools.” It is time the legislature requires them to do the same with private schools.
In view of this, THSC PAC is asking legislative candidates to declare their support for this effort. I hope you will contact the legislative candidates in your district and educate them on this issue and ask them to support equal access for private and home school students.