VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report – January 13, 2008

by Celeste Land, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Government Affairs

Welcome to another exciting season of homeschooling legislation in the Virginia General Assembly! We’re glad you are joining us for what promises to be an unusually eventful year in the world of homeschooling law and politics.

As always, the lobbyists and monitors of VaHomeschoolers’ Government Affairs team are working hard this season, wading through thousands of bills and resolutions, identifying legislation of interest and making sure that homeschooling interests are properly represented in Richmond. Seasoned lobbyist Scott Price is once again representing us at the General Assembly, supported by veteran lobbyists Parrish Mort and Celeste Land, along with a talented and enthusiastic team of volunteer legislative monitors from across the state.

The world of homeschooling legal and political issues can be confusing and bewildering at times. We invite you to explore the VaHomeschoolers website to learn more about the legislative process and the issues facing Virginia’s homeschooling community. Our Government Affairs team is always available to provide additional information and address your concerns.

This is going to be quite a legislative season. The session is less than a week old, yet we already have two major bills which amend the home instruction statute, a couple of educational tax credit bills, sports access legislation, and a worrisome truancy bill which could inadvertently make life difficult for homeschooling parents.

Most of these bills, if passed, would make life easier for homeschooling families. But good lawmaking, like good parenting, is all a matter of timing. The question is not whether these bills contain good ideas – most of them do – but whether the timing is right for advancing these ideas and pushing them forward. With a new balance of power in the General Assembly and disturbing media stories linking homeschooling to child abuse, this may not be the ideal year for advancing ambitious new ideas through the legislature.

Legislation to Amend Home Instruction Statute Adds Filing Options

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), in coordination with The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, HEAV, and HSLDA, has crafted HB 767 (Tata, R-Virginia Beach), a bill to amend the notice of intent options in the home instruction statute. This bill streamlines and expands filing options for homeschooling families. VaHomeschoolers supports HB 767.

Currently, there are four options for families filing under the home instruction statute (22.1-254.1):

“(i) holds a high school diploma; or (ii) is a teacher of qualifications prescribed by the Board of Education; or (iii) has enrolled the child or children in a correspondence course approved by the Superintendent of Public Instruction; or (iv) provides a program of study or curriculum which, in the judgment of the division superintendent, includes the standards of learning objectives adopted by the Board of Education for language arts and mathematics or provides evidence that the parent is able to provide an adequate education for the child.

HB 767 changes the language in option (iii) to read “provides a program of study or curriculum which may be delivered through a correspondence course or distance learning program or in any other manner”. HB 767 also changes the language in option (iv) to read “provides evidence that he [the parent] is able to provide an adequate education for the child.”

HB 767 eliminates references to the Virginia Standards of Learning from the home instruction statute. It also increases filing options for parents without high school diplomas, by enabling them to submit any program of study or curriculum, even if it does not track with the Virginia Standards of Learning. HB 767 also relieves the Department of Education from the responsibility of “approving” specific correspondence programs. VaHomeschoolers supports HB 767, and will keep our members informed of its progress as it makes its way through the legislature.

Read the full text of HB 767
Read more about existing filing options for homeschooling families.

Bill Adds Testing/Evaluation Options to Home Instruction Statute

Delegate Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge) has introduced HB 1183, a bill to amend the home instruction statute 22.1-254.1. This bill, which was requested by HSLDA, expands and clarifies testing/evaluation options for homeschooling parents. VaHomeschoolers supports HB 1183.

Currently, there are two options for providing end-of-year proof of progress under the home instruction statute: standardized testing or an “evaluation or assessment”. “Evaluation or assessment” can include written evaluations stating that the child has made progress, report cards from correspondence school programs, or portfolios submitted directly to the school division. However, some school divisions in Virginia have refused to accept any or all of these options as sufficient proof of progress.

HB 1183 attempts to address this problem by creating additional evaluation options:

(iii) a letter from a person licensed to teach in any state, or a person employed as a teacher in a private school in Virginia, or a person with a master’s degree or higher in the field of education, stating that the child is achieving an adequate level of educational growth and progress; (iv) a portfolio containing a sample of the child’s work each quarter in math and language arts that demonstrates the child is achieving an adequate level of annual educational growth and progress; or (v) a report card from a private school in Virginia, college distance learning program, or home education correspondence school.

Some of the language in HB 1183 needs additional clarification. VaHomeschoolers is working with the patron and other homeschool organizations on this matter, and will keep you updated on the bill’s status.

Read the full text of HB 1183
Read more about existing testing/evaluation options.

Educational Tax Credit Bills Introduced in House

No legislative session in Virginia is complete without a couple of educational tax credit bills. Because VaHomeschoolers’ membership is sharply divided over the issue of tax credits for homeschoolers, we do not support or oppose any homeschooling tax credit legislation. We do monitor such legislation closely for its possible impact on homeschoolers, and work with the patrons to craft or amend such legislation as needed.

This year, Delegate Marshall (R-Manassas) has introduced HB 420, which would allow individual taxpayers to take a tax credit of up to $2000 per homeschooled child for “qualifying educational expenses”. Families filing under either the home instruction statute, religious exemption, or approved tutor provision would be eligible for the tax credit. “Qualifying educational expenses” would include “textbooks, workbooks, curricula, and other written materials used for academic instruction”, as well as tutoring fees charged by teachers or correspondence schools. Taxpayers would be required to submit receipts or similar documentation to receive the credit, which is estimated by VaHomeschoolers to reduce a typical family’s taxes by approximately $100 per child per year.

Read the full text of HB 420.

HB 985 (Nutter, R-Christiansburg) would allow “any individual who teaches children in grades kindergarten through 12″ to take a tax credit of $250 for “materials used in teaching” (not further defined). Taxpayers would have to submit receipts as proof of payment for the teaching materials.

Read the full text of HB 985
Learn more about the pros and cons of tax credits.

Sports Access Bill

Delegate Carrico (R-Independence) has introduced HB 375, a bill to require the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to allow nonpublic school students to participate in interscholastic sports and other activities. VaHomeschoolers supports HB 375, and will be speaking on behalf of this bill in the coming weeks.

Carrico’s bill is the latest in a long series of attempts to change VHSL regulations. Over the years, there have been many such bills and several attempts to dialogue directly with VHSL. VaHomeschoolers even met with VHSL directly last year to craft possible regulatory changes. All these attempts have ended in failure. It remains to be seen whether this bill will be the exception to the rule.

If HB 375 becomes law, the VHSL will have to create numerous new regulations for interscholastic sports eligibility and participation. This is a long, painstaking, and time-consuming process, involving much coordination and review. It is extremely unlikely that the new regulations would go into effect before the 2009-2010 school year.

Read the full text of HB 375
VaHomeschoolers has lobbied on behalf of sports access in Virginia for well over a decade. Learn more about sports access and VaHomeschoolers’ work on this issue.

Truancy Bill Could Impact Homeschooling Freedoms

HB 1263 (Hall, D-Richmond) is a comprehensive bill designed to prevent truancy and dropout in the public schools through increased mandatory fines and penalties. While not intended to affect homeschoolers, HB 1263 could inadvertently make it easier for homeschooling parents to be charged with truancy. VaHomeschoolers opposes HB 1263 as currently written.

HB 1263 shortens the number of days that a child may be absent from school before being declared truant. This could be problematic for families who are withdrawing their children from school mid-year and are waiting for all their notification paperwork to be acknowledged. HB 1263 also mandates that truancy proceedings shall begin immediately after the start of the school year if the principal of the child’s school cannot account for the child’s whereabouts. This could be problematic for hundreds of families across the state, because it often takes many weeks or even months before notice of intent paperwork is processed by the school division and passed on to the local principals. VaHomeschoolers will be meeting with the patron this week to discuss alternative language which would address these issues.

Read the full text of HB 1263.

To Learn More or Take Action

Persons wishing to express an opinion on legislation should contact their own delegate or senator as appropriate. For complete text of any bills, see “Legislative Information” on the General Assembly’s web page or contact VaHomeschoolers for more information.

The General Assembly’s Constituent Viewpoint office provides a toll-free, intrastate telephone message center (during session) to take calls from citizens of the Commonwealth wishing to express an opinion on legislation. Callers will be asked to provide their name, address, and the issue on which they are expressing their opinion. The message will be transmitted to the constituent’s appropriate legislators. If a caller seeks additional information concerning legislation or wishes to speak directly with a legislator, the operator will provide the telephone number. The hours of operation are from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. The number for the toll-free opinion line is (800) 889-0229. Callers in the Richmond area may dial 698-1990.

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