AUSTIN — The House version of a bill to let private schools into the Texas public school athletic league would force even the smallest to compete in the large divisions, and would likely discourage most from making the jump.
The Senate has already approved cracking open the University Interscholastic League to private schools, but the House version — which could get a vote this week — would require them to play at the Class 4A or 5A levels.
That stacks the deck against small private schools being competitive, said Alan Hulme, administrator at Cornerstone Christian, a San Antonio school that has been pushing lawmakers to let it join the UIL.
Few, if any, private schools would want to join the league if the House version passed, he said.
"No private school could compete under those rules," Hulme said Wednesday. "This is about all private schools, and the House version doesn't work for all private schools. It's a roadblock."
And lawmakers bumping up against the May 28 end to the legislative session, it may be a big enough roadblock to derail the bill entirely.
The Senate would allow small private schools to compete as low as the 2A level, which allows enrollment from 195 to 414 students. The House would make them play against schools with at least 950.
For Cornerstone, that would mean a school with 160 students playing football and basketball against schools six times its size.
"We support the Senate version," Hulme said.
Texas is one of three states with separate athletic championships for public and private schools. The UIL, the governing body for public school sports, has about 1,300 members.
The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, has about 250 members, the vast majority of them with less than 425 students.
Texas public schools have long sought to keep private schools out of the UIL over concerns they may be able to recruit athletes.
Cornerstone Christian, connected with the politically powerful Cornerstone megachurch founded by televangelist John Hagee, has been the driving force behind the private school move to UIL.
The school ran into trouble with TAPPS in recent years over questions about its elite basketball program that used many foreign and out-of-state players. The private league did not renew Cornerstone's membership last fall, although Cornerstone officials insist it was not because they broke any rules.
Hulme argues that allowing private schools into the UIL is an issue of fairness to families who support public schools with taxes.
UIL officials said earlier this week that small public schools would be most affected if private schools were allowed to compete in the lower divisions.
In Florida, private schools won two Class 2A state championships in football and basketball and played for a third in the current school year.
"One thing our membership agrees on, and they can't agree on much of anything, (is) they don't want private schools in the league," UIL athletic director Charles Breithaupt told a meeting of Texas newspaper sports editors Monday.
Cornerstone has filed a separate federal lawsuit against the UIL claiming religious discrimination. The House bill preserves the system of exclusion the church school is fighting, Hulme said.
Rep. Frank Corte, the San Antonio Republican sponsoring the bill, still supports allowing small schools to compete in the lower UIL divisions. But it may take a smaller step before public schools warm to the idea of competing against private schools, Corte said.
"I don't think it would destroy the UIL, but this might give some comfort level to those who think it would," Corte said.