VaHomeschoolers Legislative Report – February 10, 2010

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

Can homeschooled students in Virginia participate on public high school sports teams? At this time, the answer is still “no”. However, this could be changing in the coming year, due to recent exciting developments in the Virginia General Assembly. There have also been some recent interesting developments for homeschooling families regarding the triennial school census and immunization policies. Want to know more? Read on.

Sports Access Bills: Lose a Battle, Win the War?

First the bad news: No sports access bill will be signed into law by the Governor in 2010.  HB 926 (R. Bell (R-Charlottesville) was defeated in the House Education Committee by a 9-12 vote on Monday, February 8.  Delegate Gear (R- Hampton) revived the bill in committee briefly on Wednesday, February 10, but the votes were still not there to move the bill forward to the full House. (Two other sports access bills HB 70, (Carrico, R-Independence) and HB 1001 (Nutter, R-Christianburg) were incorporated into HB 926 prior to its defeat.)  VaHomeschoolers supported HB 926.

The good news is that the debate over HB 926 may yet bear fruit. On Wednesday, February 10, the House Education Committee voted to continue (carry over) HB 926 to General Assembly 2011 for further consideration. The Committee stated its wish that the Virginia High School League (VHSL) take advantage of this time extension to negotiate a workable solution to the sports access problem with the homeschooling community. If VHSL does not come up with a solution within the coming year, then further legislative action is probable.

This unusual action on the part of the House Education Committee came after several weeks of lobbying and thoughtful testimony from VaHomeschoolers lobbyists and witnesses about the advantages of sports access and the flaws in VHSL’s arguments against it. This dialogue, on the heels of similar debate in the 2008 General Assembly, has made the Committee increasingly aware of  the VHSL’s longstanding  inflexibility and unwillingness to negotiate an effective solution to this problem.

VaHomeschoolers will be working with the VHSL and related interest groups in the coming months to craft effective regulations which will allow homeschool access to interscholastic activities while protecting homeschool freedoms and addressing public school concerns over academic eligibility, boundary restrictions, etc. This will be the third time in the past 13 years that VaHomeschoolers has dialogued with VHSL to craft such regulations. Both times in the past, the VHSL Executive Committee rejected these regulations out of hand. Let’s hope that three is the charm and that this will mark a final, successful resolution to this controversial issue.

The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers would like to thank Delegates Rob Bell, Charles Carrico, and David Nutter for their support for homeschool sports access this year. Delegate Bell and his staff did an exceptional job of listening to all sides involved and working towards an equitable solution. We also would like to thank our outstanding witnesses, homeschooling parents Erik Sorensen of Blacksburg and Jeanne Faulconer of South Hill, who took time from their busy schedules to visit delegates and testify on behalf of sports access with our lobbyist Scott Price.

To learn more about homeschool sports accessHomeschoolers and Public School Sports Teams.

Latest on Immunizations and Vaccination Bills

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

HB 270 (Englin, D-Alexandria), a bill to require the Virginia Department of Health (VDOH) to develop plans for vaccination of all  school-aged children in the event of an epidemic, passed the House Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions, and is expected to pass the full House of Delegates this week.

The most recent version of this heavily amended bill covers all school-aged children (including homeschoolers) and contains language in which parents must give consent for their children to participate in epidemic immunization programs.

Some in the homeschooling community have argued that HB 270 now requires school divisions to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school vaccination clinics. The bill merely requires VDOH to develop emergency vaccination plans–something it already has the authority to do—and does not require public schools to make their clinics available to the public. VDOH worked constructively with VaHomeschoolers, other homeschool organizations, and private schools last fall to make H1N1 vaccinations available to those who desired them; this will not change under HB 270.

Meanwhile, the House Health, Welfare, and Institutions subcommittee tabled (defeated) HB 189 (Purkey, R-Virginia Beach) (philosophical exemptions from immunizations) and  HB 686 (J H Miller, R-Manassas)  (elimination of  the HPV vaccine from the list of required immunizations) with little fanfare.

To learn more: Vaccination Laws Pertaining to Homeschoolers.

Triennial Census Elimination Bills Still Alive

VaHomeschoolers is not taking a position on the triennial census legislation at this time, but continues to monitor these bills to see how they will potentially impact homeschooling families.

Lawmakers are still seriously considering the idea of eliminating the triennial school census in Virginia as a cost saving mechanism.  Current 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.  Eliminating the school census could save some jurisdictions up to a million dollars from their budgets, but could also result in some jurisdictions losing state revenues.

Of the three census elimination bills proposed in 2010, two are still alive: HB 669 (May, R-Leesburg) and SB 413 (Vogel, R-Winchester). Both proposals now use demographic data from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia to calculate sales tax disbursements to public schools.  Weldon Cooper data includes all school-aged children, including homeschooled students.

To learn moreJanuary 26, 2010 VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs Report

Homeschooling and the Triennial Census

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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