VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report – January 26, 2010

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

Once again it’s time for another exciting legislative session in the Virginia General Assembly. As always, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers’ experienced team of lobbyists and monitors is very busy, representing homeschooling interests in Richmond and making sure that homeschooling freedoms are protected.

If you’re new to the world of homeschooling legislation, we invite you to visit the VaHomeschoolers website to learn more about the legislative process, important homeschooling issues, and our Government Affairs team.  Otherwise, sit back and enjoy the flight as we take you to another exciting year of legislative adventures.

General Assembly 2010

The big issues in Richmond this year are once again the budget and the economy. While the lawmakers grapple with tough decisions and big budget cuts, issues like homeschooling are very much on the backburner. Meanwhile, legislative initiatives which may cost money or reduce revenues (like tax credits or voucher programs) are not likely to go far this year.

Longtime readers of our Legislative Reports will see an awful lot of rerun bills this session. Many of the bills of interest this year are identical or nearly identical to bills which were introduced in the past year or two. Legislators often submit the same bills repeatedly to make a point or keep a particular idea alive, even when they know the bill has no hope of actually becoming a law.

Note: The full text of any legislation in this report may be viewed at the Legislative Information System website.

Three Sports Access Bills in House of Delegates

Sports access is the big homeschooling legislative story this session. There are actually three different sports access bills in the House of Delegates this year:

HB 270 Delegate Carrico (R-Independence)
HB 926 Delegate Bell (R-Charlottesville)
HB 1001 Delegate Nutter (R-Christianburg)

All three bills would require the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school interscholastic athletic activities. HB 926 would also allow homeschooled students to participate in additional interscholastic activities regulated by the VHSL, such as forensics and yearbook. We expect one or more of these bills to be rolled into each other in the near future.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers supports HB 270, HB 926, and HB 1001.

Sports access legislation was last introduced in the General Assembly in 2008,where it was supported by many lawmakers and homeschooling families, but faced heavy opposition from powerful interest groups, including the VHSL, the VEA (Virginia Education Association), the PTA, and various athletic director and high school principal organizations. These bills are likely to face similar scrutiny this time around, and will need strong patronage to survive the legislative process. Watch the VaHomeschoolers Legislative Updates for the latest news on the status of these controversial bills.

To learn more about homeschool sports access issues, read Homeschoolers and Public School Sports Teams.

Immunizations and Vaccinations

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers takes no position on immunization/vaccination bills except when they specifically address the freedoms of homeschooled students.

This year, there are several immunization bills of interest to homeschooling families:

HB 270 (Englin, D-Alexandria) failed to report out of subcommittee on January 25, but is still alive at the time of this report. This bill would require the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) to develop plans for vaccination of school-aged children (including home instructed students) in the event of an epidemic. HB 270 has been revised numerous times since its introduction, and will likely be revised further in the coming week. The most recent version (not currently available on LIS) contains language in which parents must give consent for their children to participate in epidemic immunization programs.

HB 270 was crafted without input from VDOH or the homeschooling community. VDOH feels the bill is unnecessary because it already has the authority to develop emergency vaccination plans. In fact, VDOH worked constructively with VaHomeschoolers, other homeschool organizations, and private schools last fall to make H1N1 vaccinations available to those who desired them.

HB 189 (Purkey, R-Virginia Beach) would allow parents to claim a philosophical exemption from requirements for immunizations. Currently, Virginia parents are only allowed to claim religious or medical exemptions from immunizations.

HB 686 (J H Miller, R-Manassas) eliminates the HPV vaccine from the list of required immunizations for all Virginia school-aged children (including home instructed students).

To learn more: Vaccination Laws Pertaining to Homeschoolers.

Tax Credits and Vouchers

Because VaHomeschoolers’ membership is 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.

As in past years, there are two bills (HB 599, Massie, R-Richmond, and SB 133, Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg) which would create income tax credits for businesses and individuals who make contributions to educational scholarship foundations. Scholarship foundations could be established to benefit public schools, private schools, or homeschooled families. Under HB 599, homeschooling parents would not receive a tax credit for their educational expenses, but qualifying homeschooling families could receive scholarships for educational expenses from a scholarship foundation. In SB 133, as currently written, the scholarships are for “eligible students enrolled in a nonpublic elementary school or secondary school” which would exclude homeschooled students from consideration.

Two bills create vouchers (“tuition grants”) for autistic and/or disabled students to attend private schools: HB 238 (Janis, R-Glen Allen) and SB 649 (Stotsch, R-Glen Allen).

None of these bills are expected to advance very far this year, given the current economic climate and the negative impact of tax credits and vouchers on state revenues.

To Learn More: Homeschooler Tax Credits: Pro and Con

Elimination of Triennial Census

Virginia law requires all school divisions to conduct a census of all school-aged children every three years. The data from the census is used to determine how much sales tax money each school division will receive.

Several bills have been introduced this year which would eliminate the requirement to conduct a triennial census, and instead use annual daily membership (ADM) statistics to calculate sales tax disbursements to public schools.  These include HB 669 (May, R-Leesburg), SB 413 (Vogel, R-Winchester), and SB 557 (Herring, D-Leesburg), These bills would potentially reduce expenses at the state and local levels, but would also likely significantly change the regional and local distribution of funds for public schools across the state. Similar legislation was introduced unsuccessfully in 2008.

As currently written, these nearly identical bills only count currently enrolled public school students. The bills do not address how private schooled students or homeschooled students would be counted. (These students are currently counted in the triennial census.) This could potentially result in a significant decline in state revenues for many Virginia school divisions.

VaHomeschoolers is not taking a position on SB 557 at this time, but will be monitoring the bill to see how this issue potentially impacts homeschooling families.

Community College Match Funds

For several years, many lawmakers have attempted to create programs where the Commonwealth of Virginia would donate matching funds to community college scholarship foundations. These bills never advance very far in the legislature because of their extensive fiscal impact (typically projected at up to $5 million per year).  Historically, some of these initiatives are written in such a way as to allow homeschooled students to apply for these scholarships, while others are written in such a way as to exclude them.  The differing language generally reflects different draft versions of the initiative, rather than a conscious attempt to exclude homeschoolers from participation.

This year’s crop of community college match fund bills includes SB 166 (Edwards, D-Roanoke), which allows homeschooled students to apply for scholarships, and HB 471 (Dance, D-Petersburg), which limits scholarship application to students who have graduated from either a public or private high school in Virginia.

Resolution Honoring Chris Klicka

HR 7 (Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge) honors the life and accomplishments of homeschooling father and activist Chris Klicka, who passed away in fall 2009 following a long illness.

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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