For the fourth time in three months, state legislators discussed with the Utah High School Activities Association how charter and home-school students might be more uniformly offered the chance to play prep sports for their home boundary public high school.
Though the discussion veered off course for much of the hour-and-a-half discussion Monday, it seems that the UHSAA is close to offering legislators a solution to the current problem which is that there isn't a uniform system or rule for non-member charter-school students to participate in high school sports.
Previously, if charter schools that don't offer athletics have an agreement with local high schools or districts written into their charters, then students are allowed to participate. Without that issue included in the charter, and the cooperation of the school or district, students weren't allowed to participate.
Most of the legislators on the Administrative Rules Committee lean toward making public school programs, like athletics, available to charter-school and home-school students. And while home-school students are more easily accommodated, charter-school students are a more complicated situation.
First of all, they are still considered public school students. The tax money associated with that student follows him if he decides to attend a charter school. That money does not follow private school or home-school students.
UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner said that while the UHSAA can deal with the eligibility of charter-school students, the association cannot solve the issue of how the participation of those students in public school programs would be shared between traditional schools and charter schools.
"We can make them eligible, and we can make that option available," said Van Wagoner. "I expect that's what the board of trustees will decide to do in their meeting on August 30. ... But there's got to be some transfer of money, and we will not be able to solve that problem."
The other problem that the UHSAA can't solve is forcing districts to absorb those students if they don't want to or can't work out financial or educational issues.
The committee chairman, Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said the issue was brought to them a few months ago to ensure those agencies acting on behalf of the state are adhering to the law. He questioned whether the current statute, which simply states "the State Board of Education, in consultation with the Utah High School Activities Association, shall establish policies regarding non-resident student participation in interscholastic competition," is adequate or if the Legislature needs to more clearly state the nature of that relationship.
The UHSAA is a private non-profit, but it is also considered a state actor.
"It seems we either need to endorse the (state school) board rule" that cedes that policymaking duty to UHSAA, Stephenson said. Or the state school board needs to take the advice of the UHSAA and make the rules itself using the administrative rules process, rather than the process used by UHSAA, which is one of allowing each of the 127 individual member schools to vote on rule changes or new rules to the constitution or by-laws.
Lesser changes are voted on by the UHSAA's executive committee and/or board of trustees. A state school board member sits on the board as a voting member.
The issue of where the UHSAA gets its authority arose out of a question of accountability. While the Legislature indicated it would like the UHSAA to be more accountable to state government, UHSAA officials said they are accountable to the member schools, who are, in turn, principals, local school board members and superintendents of the districts most affected by UHSAA policies and decisions.
"We are accountable at the very grass roots level of state government," VanWagoner said.While the UHSAA's board of trustees is set to take up the issue of changing UHSAA rules to allow more charter-school students to participate in their home boundary school, the legislative rules committee is still discussing whether lawmakers or the state board need to make adjustments to laws or rules governing the UHSAA's role.