VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report – February 9, 2009

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

The 2009 legislative season started out slowly from a homeschooling perspective, but is picking up speed rapidly. The big homeschooling legislation stories of this week involve financial aid for college, driver education, and high school transfer credit.

College Financial Aid Bill Introduced in Senate

Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) has introduced SB 1547, a bill to increase financial aid options for homeschooled students attending college in Virginia. The bill has passed the Senate and Education Committee, and will be voted upon by the full Senate later this week. VaHomeschoolers supports SB 1547, and is working on amendments which would improve the bill and strengthen its effectiveness.

Federal laws and regulations have clearly established homeschooler eligibility for federally funded financial aid, such as Pell Grants and student loans. However, these laws do not apply to state-supported financial aid programs, which often provide a significant portion of aid for needy students.

One such state-supported program is the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP), which provides aid to students with significant financial need. VGAP currently specifically excludes homeschoolers from participating, by saying that participants must have graduated from a Virginia public or private school and must have a GPA of 2.5 or higher. SB 1547 is intended to address this problem by allowing home instructed and religious exempted students to be eligible to participate in state-supported programs like VGAP.

As currently written, SB 1547 does not adequately address how homeschooled applicants for state-supported financial aid would meet the academic qualifications for VGAP at present or other academic-based aid programs in the future. The current language referring to “approved” home instruction programs is also misleading. VaHomeschoolers is working with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) and Senator Cuccinelli’s office to craft acceptable amendments which would address these issues.

For a related story involving “state-supported” financial aid, read about Community College Match Bills below.

Read the full text of the final version of SB 1547.

Community College Match Funds

Several VaHomeschoolers members have asked us about community college match fund legislation and its potential impact on homeschoolers. For several years, we have watched multiple unsuccessful attempts to create a program where the Commonwealth of Virginia would donate matching funds to community college scholarship foundations. These bills never get very far, because of their extensive fiscal impact (projected at up to $5 million per year).

Historically, some of these bills are written in such a way as to allow all state residents (including homeschoolers) to apply for these scholarships, while others include public or private high school graduation requirements, which would exclude homeschoolers from consideration. The differing language likely reflects different draft versions of the bill, rather than a conscious attempt to discriminate against homeschoolers.

This year, four different bills addressed this issue. HB 2327 (Athey, R-Front Royal) and SB 1118 (Colgan, D-Manassas) would have allowed homeschoolers to participate, and HB 1612 (Dance, D-Petersburg) and SB 866 (Edwards, D-Roanoke) limited participation to public and private high school graduates. Three of these four bills have died in committee or subcommittee, and the one survivor (SB 1118) is expected to die soon, given the current economic climate.

Read the full text of HB 2327.

Read the full text of SB 1118.

Read the full text of HB 1612.

Read the full text of SB 866.

Driver Education Bill Tabled in Committee

At the request of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Delegate Hugo (R-Centreville) requested that his driver education bill HB 2605 be tabled by the House Transportation Committee. HB 2605 would have moved the administration of driver education programs from the Department of Education to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Unfortunately, the bill inadvertently repealed the section of code allowing homeschooled students to take parent-taught driver education classes, and also inadvertently eliminated additional sections of code addressing how homeschoolers earn and receive driver’s licenses.

Delegate Hugo is a longtime supporter of homeschooling, and did not intend for this bill to adversely impact homeschoolers. Prior to tabling his bill, Delegate Hugo’s office created several drafts of compromise language in response to concerns raised by VaHomeschoolers. The compromise language resolved some issues, but created new ones, reflecting the convoluted nature of this particular section of code and the tangled relationship between the two government agencies. VaHomeschoolers will be meeting with Delegate Hugo later this year to discuss alternative language for future legislation.

Read the full text of HB 2605.

Virtual Virginia Credits

Delegate Barlow (D-Smithfield) has introduced HB 2619, a bill to require public school divisions to award transfer credit to coursework from “Virtual Virginia”, a state-run program which offers online Advanced Placement courses to high school students (including homeschoolers). As originally written, the bill specifically referenced “students…attending…public secondary school or nonpublic school, or through home instruction.” As amended and streamlined in committee, HB 2619 no longer specifically references homeschoolers or any specific types of students, but simply states that school divisions should grant transfer credit.

Read the full text of HB 2619.

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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