WFISD officials split on homeschoolers-UIL issue

The Wichita Falls ISD School Board voted 4-3 to reject a proposal that would have allowed homeschooled students to participate in district UIL activities on a one-year trial basis.

In a meeting in which the board decided every other motion unanimously, trustees struggled to reach a consensus on the issue before ultimately denying the proposal on a tightly-split vote.

Dr. Donny Lee, WFISD superintendent, said homeschooling families should use the avenue available — enrolling in the district — to access UIL rather than the district making accommodations for a few people at the potential expense of currently enrolled UIL-participating students.

Dr. Donny Lee, the Wichita Falls ISD superintendent (left) and School Board President Katherine McGregor participate in a meeting Monday, May 20, 2024, at the WFISD Education Center.

“And so let’s focus on those students, with an invitation to all homeschool parents: ‘Come, try us out,’ instead of the other way around where we need to try out homeschool,” Lee said.

“We have a great system in place, fantastic teachers, wonderful facilities, can’t beat it,” he said. “Come give us a try versus the other way around.”

School Board member Sandy Camp proposed the one-year trial for allowing homeschool participation.

Camp cited the need to gather data as a reason to try things out on a temporary basis with the option to extend or end homeschool participation later on.

The trustees who voted against the proposal — Susan Grisel, School Board President Katherine McGregor, Diann Scroggins and Dale Harvey — raised a number of concerns with the motion.

One reason board members rejected the proposal was that results of a recent poll of WFISD teachers showed a majority of district educators were opposed to the possibility of introducing homeschool students into UIL activities.

Lee added that the district weighed why parents who don’t utilize area schools despite WFISD’s openness would be comfortable trusting the district’s coaches but not teachers.

“We have community events. We have open houses. We have everything that a homeschool parent or public school parent could want,” Lee said.

“So all the steps are there,” he added. “We always ask, ‘Why not us? If our teachers and staff aren’t good enough, why are our coaches?’”

Discussion also turned to how seriously public school UIL students have to take their studies to maintain their grades and eligibility while homeschooled students might not have the same strict standards.

Board opponents of the proposition also cited that homeschooled students might not share the same struggles as district students like having a late game followed by an early test the next day.

The trustees who voted in favor of the proposal — Jim Johnson, Mark Lukert and Camp — held that the district had an opportunity to showcase its strong suits to homeschooling parents who might otherwise be skeptical of the district.

Proponents of the proposal also pointed out that the number of homeschooled students who joined district UIL programs would likely be low, limiting the potential impact of the measure.

They also noted that homeschooling parents in the city pay property taxes, which fund schools. Pro-proposal board members held that those tax payments gave homeschool families a right to access some of the benefits of the school district.

Lee said paying those taxes doesn’t necessarily entitle those families to participate though and liked it to the fact that he and other residents pay taxes to fix roads that they never drive on.

“Everybody pays property taxes and everybody pays school taxes, regardless if you have a kid or not,” he said, adding, “I’m paying city taxes for roads that I don’t drive on. Never drive on them, I pay that tax. For bridges that I never cross. For police that I’ve never called to my house. For a fire that’s never happened in my house. I pay all those taxes, and they’re steep.”

He said that even community members who choose not to use the public school system are benefited by its effects.

“Education is a public good for everyone so that we have an educated populace for everyone to use,” Lee said.

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This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: WFISD officials split on homeschoolers-UIL issue