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February 10, 2014

Public schools pushed to open sports teams to outsiders

House bill may compel teams to accept virtual school students.

(Continued)

Showing up for one class a day was a deal-maker for IHSAA member schools. That allows schools to count the students for the purpose of state funding. The state doles out education dollars based on the number of bodies sitting in classrooms.

State-supported virtual charters present a different scenario. The web-based schools also count enrolled students for purposes of state funding. Requiring their student-athletes to show up at a traditional public school would force those virtual charters to cede some per-pupil funding.

Indiana approved the public funding of virtual charter schools in 2009. About 200 students statewide enrolled during their first year. Enrollment is now up to about 6,000 students, compared to the 1 million students enrolled in traditional public schools.

One of the IHSAA’s concerns about opening sports to students of virtual charters is the potential for unfair competition. Students not forced to sit in a traditional classroom all day have an advantage over those who do, Cox said.

“There’s no accountability for how they’re spending their time,” he said. “How do we know that student isn’t out on the driving range all day hitting buckets of balls, then trying out for the golf team?”

Stacy Taylor, whose sons are in their fourth year at the Indiana Connections Academy, said opponents of the bill don’t understand how virtual charters work. The web-based schools require students to complete hours of daily coursework, and pass the same standardized tests that are given to traditional school students.

Taylor wonders if the IHSAA just hasn’t caught up with changes in education.

“Ten years ago, who would have even thought that Indiana would be offering online public education to thousands of students?” she said.

Schools and legislatures around the country are dealing with the issue, with the rise of students in non-traditional settings. The IHSAA said 27 states currently prohibit what it calls “non-traditional students” — those who are home-schooled or enrolled in publicly funded charter schools without sports programs — from participating in school athletics. Some states do allow it but leave the final decision on who plays to local school districts.

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