A push to let more non-traditional students participate in public school activities is raising some questions for Wisconsin high school athletics officials.
Language added to the state budget last week by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee would require public schools to allow many private, virtual, charter and homeschooled students who live in their district to participate in their sports teams and other extracurricular activities. Some districts already allow some non-student participation through options such as co-ops, but the state budget provision allows for much broader access to those programs. The requirement would also not apply if a student already attends a school that offers a similar program.
Current WIAA rules requires students involved in a school sports team to be a full time student that attends the school they compete for, and receive 100 percent of their programming from that school. If it remains in the budget, Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) Deputy Director Wade Labecki says it could impact districts across the state, while also likely requiring the WIAA to change its rules for participation.
However, Labecki says there are greater concerns about the impact the change would have on school teams. For instance, he says kids attending a school could lose an opportunity to compete on a team to someone who does not even attend classes with them.
It could also cause complications for some many rural districts, where the chance to compete in sports is the main attraction for staying at a high school, rather than exploring a virtual school curriculum. Labecki says that could have a real financial impact on districts, which could lose state aid if students opt to enroll through a virtual classroom and return just for sports. If that happens, Labecki says “they’ve got dollars walking out of the door.”
Republican lawmakers have not yet indicated why the provision was added to the budget, while previous versions of the plan have faced stiff opposition from education groups. The proposal will still require an endorsement from the full legislature and Governor Scott Walker.