Friday, May 13, 2011

Two bills now aiming at opening UIL to private schools

A bill by Sen. Dan Patrick to allow private schools to participate in UIL competitions has already passed the Senate and is waiting on its chance to be heard in the House. 

But Patrick is hedging his bets and doubling his efforts by hitching his bill as an amendment to another bill by Rep. Scott Hochberg that also deals with UIL issues, but has nothing to do with private schools.

Patrick’s bill, SB 1214, passed the Senate 22-7 last week. It allows private schools onto UIL playing fields with two major exceptions – football and basketball. 

Patrick, who has tried to get the UIL to open up to private schools since 2007, said exempting those two sports was necessary to get the bill passed. The football/basketball exemption was added to the bill as an amendment on the Senate floor.

Patrick’s bill now goes to the House for consideration. It’s been referred to the House Public Education Committee.

Meanwhile, Hochberg filed HB 370, a bill that would allow students who transfer to a school or move into the attendance zone of a school for the purpose of participating in an extracurricular activity or a specific UIL competition to participate if it’s not offered at the school from which the student transferred. 

Hochberg’s bill passed the House unanimously, and then headed to the Senate. Patrick, added an amendment to Hochberg’s bill on the Senate floor that included essentially the text of his bill regarding private schools participation in UIL competitions. On Tuesday, the Senate approved the bill 30-1.

The bill as amended requires final approval by the House. Once the bill is eligible in the House, Hochberg will either accept the amendment or request the bill go to conference committee.

Texas is one of a handful of states with separate athletic championships for public and private schools. The UIL has about 1,300 members. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, has about 250.

For years the UIL has battled lawsuits and legislative pressure seeking to bring public and private school competitions under one umbrella. UIL members point out that private schools have the ability to recruit athletes, offering scholarships and incentives, creating an unfair advantage.

The UIL has given up some ground on the issue: In 2003, they allowed Houston Strake Jesuit and Dallas Jesuit to compete because those schools had become too large for TAPPS and had nowhere else to play.

In 2008, Strake Jesuit had the top-ranked boys’ basketball team before losing in the state semifinals. Dallas Jesuit became the first private school to win a state team championship in the 100-year history of the UIL when it won the Class 5A boys’ state soccer title in 2010.

TASA is encouraging it’s members to call their representatives and ask them to vote against any measure that would expand private schools’ participation in the UIL. 

Public school students deserve an even playing field. Allowing schools with the power to offer scholarships to elite athletes to compete with traditional public schools, where sports teams are fielded from the students assigned to that school and nothing more, is patently unfair. 

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