by Celeste Land, The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Government Affairs
The curtain rises once again on another exciting legislative session in the Virginia General Assembly. The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers’ seasoned lobbyists and legislative monitors have been working very hard on behalf of homeschooling interests over the past few weeks.
The big homeschooling-related issues in the legislature this year so far include driver education and sports access. Read on to learn more about the latest developments on these breaking stories.
Note: The sports access bill (HB 2395) will next be heard by the House Education Committee on Monday, January 24, at 9:00 a.m. in House Room C. Delegate Bell is encouraging interested homeschooling families to come watch the debate and show their support for sports access. Interested homeschooling parents and well-behaved children and teens are welcome to attend. For more information, see below.
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.
Note: The full text of any legislation in this report may be viewed at the Legislative Information System website.
Sports Access Bills Resurface in House of Delegates
For the third time in four years, legislation has been introduced which would require the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school interscholastic activities, including interscholastic athletics, forensics, and yearbook. This year’s crop of access bills includes HB 2395 (Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville) and HB 2258 (Nutter, R-Christianburg). In response to concerns from last year, HB 2395 requires participating homeschool students to comply with public high school disciplinary rules and have received home instruction for at least two years.
The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers supports both HB 2395 and HB 2258 and is working on behalf of this issue in the General Assembly.
As you may recall, similar legislation failed to report out of the House Education Committee in 2010. However, the Committee stated its wish that VHSL use the coming year to negotiate a workable solution to the sports access problem with the homeschooling community. VHSL’s continued unwillingness to negotiate resulted in the patrons’ reintroduction of legislation. However, the bills still face heavy opposition from powerful interest groups such as the VHSL, the VEA (Virginia Education Association), the PTA, and various athletic director and high school principal organizations.
VaHomeschoolers lobbyist Scott Price, along with homeschooling parent Clint Thomas, spoke eloquently on behalf of sports access before the House Education Subcommittee on Wednesday, January 20. Following the testimony and the usual debate, the subcommittee voted to roll Delegate Nutter’s bill into Delegate Bell’s HB 2395, and then voted to report the bill by a surprising 6-2 margin. While this is encouraging, the bill still faces strong opposition in the House Education Committee. Watch the VaHomeschoolers Legislative Updates for the latest news on these controversial bills.
HB 2395 will next be heard by the House Education Committee on Monday, January 24, at 9:00 a.m. in House Room C. Delegate Bell is encouraging interested homeschooling families to come watch the debate and show their support for sports access. Interested homeschooling parents and well-behaved children and teens are welcome to attend. Plan on coming early because public parking is extremely limited and is often located a few blocks from the Capitol. You can learn more about parking and visiting the General Assembly here:
To learn more about homeschool sports access issues, read Homeschoolers and Public School Sports Teams. Our February 10, 2010 Legislative Update contains more information on previous sports access initiatives.
VaHomeschoolers Introduces Driver Education Legislation for Northern Virginia Families
This year, VaHomeschoolers, along with patron Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Franconia), are introducing HB 2439, a bill to give homeschooled and private schooled students and their parents in Northern Virginia access to the 90 minute Partners for Safe Teen Driving driver education component offered through the public schools. VaHomeschoolers initiated this legislation in response to questions and concerns from families about this issue.
As many have heard, in 2009 the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation requiring all driver education students and parents in Planning District 8 (Northern Virginia) to take this 90 minute course, in addition to the already-required classroom and behind-the-wheel courses. This course must be taken prior to applying for a learner’s permit from the DMV, and is only available through the public schools and the private driver schools which offer classroom instruction. It is not available through approved correspondence courses such as VADETS, driversed.com, etc.
The new law has created much confusion in the region, and each school division has created a slightly different policy for homeschooled families regarding admittance, locations, fees, etc. Several school divisions have not made any provision for homeschooled students at all, which means that these students cannot comply with the law and therefore cannot obtain their learner’s permit. HB 2439 will address this by requiring all school divisions to make the program accessible to homeschooled students.
VaHomeschoolers supports HB 2439 and will keep families informed of its progress as it makes its way through the legislature. Meanwhile, please contact VaHomeschoolers if you live in Northern Virginia and are experiencing difficulties with attending the Partners for Safe Teen Driving course in your school division this academic year.
Other Bills of Interest
Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) has introduced several bills clarifying Governor McDonnell’s new virtual school laws. This includes “virtual charter school” bills HB 1680 and HB 2313 (both of which have been stricken) and still-alive HB 2311, which creates a statewide board of directors to oversee and regulate the public virtual schools.
VaHomeschoolers has spoken with Delegate Bell and the Virginia Department of Education in recent weeks to learn more about how the new laws and this most recent legislation may impact homeschooling families who wish to use public virtual schools. Much still needs to be determined about exactly how these programs will be regulated. We will be passing on additional information as it becomes available.
Delegate Sickles (D-Franconia) has introduced HB 2291, a bill to allow licensed nurse practitioners to certify medical exemptions from immunizations for homeschooled children. Currently only licensed physicians can certify such medical exemptions. Read more about homeschooling and immunizations.
It wouldn’t be a legislative session without educational tax credit bills. Perennial scholarship foundation tax credit bills HB 2314 (Massie, R-Richmond) and SB 1194 (Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg) are once again up for consideration. This year’s bills do not pertain to homeschooling families. Read more about tax credits.
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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