Home school and virtual charter school students in Wisconsin could soon have a chance to join their local public school friends on the football field or basketball court.
The Assembly Committee on Education has approved a plan, AB 779, to allow choice students to be a part of traditional high school sports and other extracurricular activities.
The idea has more than a few opponents, including Rep. LaKeisha Myers, D-Milwaukee, who said allowing choice students to play basketball or football or join the school play could be dangerous.
"Virtual charter schools have been used primarily as a behavior deterrent for students when they cannot be educated in a traditional setting," Myers said during a hearing on the proposal. "I would question if you want to invite students that teachers or faculty and staff do not know into their building. Not knowing the background of a student using this particular service."
The legislation gives students in a school district, whether they go to the public school or not, the opportunity to participate in what the school district offers.
Rep. Tim Rathum, R-Campbellsport, is the proposal's biggest defender. He said there is nothing dangerous or wrong about wanting to make sure that young people get a shot to have the full high school experience, even if they don't go to the traditional high school.
"If you think about the effect on the child, their mentality and their self confidence and self image, it's not just what happens in the classroom," Rathum said. "It's everything around that as well."
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, the group that runs high school sports in Wisconsin, opposes the legislation.
The WIAA said in a statement last week that allowing choice students to play high school sports would "upend" high school athletics in Wisconsin.
"The bill serves to erode education based athletics, turning them into a community recreation program and presents starkly and distinctly different standards and expectations between participants," the WIAA said.
The group also worries about the cost of adding non-students to high school teams.
"Even though fees can be charged, the full freight cost of participating in a school's athletic structure will likely not be reimbursed, forcing the school district to carry a cost while potentially displacing its own enrolled students from teams and opportunities," the WIAA added.
Rathum said that's not much of an argument. He said local schools wouldn't lose that much money on choice students, and he said the number of choice students who want to play sports or join an extracurricular activity would likely be very small.
Rathum said most of the opposition to the legislation is rooted in the lingering opposition to the idea of school choice in general.
"Of all the entities that have listed their opposition to this bill, they are all part of the educational establishment," Rathum said. "They seem to me, in my opinion, want to keep the choice element controlled so that they don't have enrollment losses that will ultimately cause them to have less revenue. So this to me is about money. And it shouldn't be about money. It should be about what is best for the child."
The proposal passed on a 9-6 vote and is headed for the full Assembly for a vote.