Florida Legislature unanimous in approval of bill to allow charter school students to play sports for private schools

At Master’s Academy in Vero Beach, Florida, the volleyball program seeks to provide a competitive and successful opportunity that points players to Christ and builds the character of Christ within each student athlete.

One of several bills that would let charter school students play sports and participate in extra-curricular activities at willing private schools has cleared the Florida Legislature and awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’s signature.

In a display of bipartisanship, all 116 of the House members who were present voted to approve SB 190, which was substituted for its companion, HB 225.

Both bills would allow charter school students to play on private school sports teams and participate in private school extra-curricular activities fi a private school agrees. Current law already allows homeschooled students to do this, and these bills would extend the same provisions to those who attend charter schools and Florida Virtual School.

The vote came nearly a month after the Florida Senate gave final approval in a 38-0 vote.

“We are just absolutely thrilled,” said Wayne Smith, head of school at Master’s Academy, a small private Christian school in Vero Beach that served as the inspiration for the bill. He said the outcome could be a good civics lesson for his students, who were demoralized when the Sunshine State Athletic Association disciplined the school for letting students at a nearby charter school to play on its varsity football team.

Under current law, if a specific program isn’t available at a charter school, the only option for those students is to sign up for it at their zoned district schools. The proposed legislation would let charter students choose between the district school and or a nearby private school through a special agreement.

However, the arrangement at Master’s Academy had been going on for years without controversy, based on an interpretation of the law that allowed the homeschoolers to play at private schools.

Last year, someone complained, and the Sunshine State Athletic Association forced the charter school students off the team in the middle of the season and stripped Master’s Academies of its victories up to that point.

Smith said the decision left the students heartbroken but motivated.

Members of school tennis and baseball teams stepped up to fill the vacancies on the football team. Despite the disciplinary action, the school ended up winning the championship.

News about the controversy got the attention of the community’s state senator. Sen. Erin Grall, a Republican whose district includes Vero Beach, responded by sponsoring SB 190.

“The parent makes the decision not to send their child to the public school they’re zoned for and instead chooses to send their child to a charter school,” she said during a committee meeting on the bill. “This lines up the homeschooling statute with the charter school statute … to fix it and make it more clear.”