Bill letting charter school athletes play in private school sports programs clears first hurdle

Florida Politics | By Jesse Scheckner | February 7, 2023

The bill arose from an unfortunate event in Vero Beach last year.

A proposed change to Florida law that would allow charter school students to participate in private school sports programs received unanimous support Tuesday, including a passionate endorsement from a pro footballer-turned-legislator.

The measure, SB 190, would extend to charter school students the same provisions now offered to students who are homeschooled, enabling them to play for willing private schools rather than the public school to which they’d otherwise be assigned.

A student would not be able to seek a program elsewhere if his or her school already offers one in-house. And the private school must be open to having the student participate.

Republican Sen. Erin Grall, the bill’s sponsor, said she filed the bill after learning of a situation in Vero Beach where a private school called Master’s Academy had to purge charter school seniors from its football team. Someone had complained — correctly — of their ineligibility to play alongside charter school students under current state rules.

The students were ultimately forced off the team, and the Sunshine State Athletic Conference penalized the school, which for years had welcomed charter school students onto its field.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened, but at the same time it brought my attention to the lack of flexibility within the statute for charter school students to participate in sports,” Grall told the Senate Committee on Education Pre-K – 12 Tuesday.

Grall’s fellow Committee members agreed and voted to advance the bill. None was more vocal in his support than Chair Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican who played eight seasons in the NFL and continues to be closely involved with the sport,

“I can’t count the number of young people that I’ve coached over the years, mentored over the years, (who) find out who they are — they find their people — in athletics,” he said. “They just want to find something that they’re good at, and school is not always the place that they find (it). So, that outlet has to be there for all of our students.”

He added, “I really want to thank you for this bill.”

Republican Rep. Robert Brackett, the immediate past Mayor of Vero Beach, is carrying an identical measure (HB 259) in the House.

Chris Stranberg, the state legislative affairs director for Americans for Prosperity-Florida, signaled support for SB 190, which will next go to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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