2013 General Assembly: Quick Action Expected on Sports Access Bills
The Virginia General Assembly opened its 2013 session on Wednesday, January 9, and VaHomeschoolers’ government affairs team has been busy. Using the General Assembly’s online Legislative Information System, our team of volunteer legislative monitors checks for bills that could affect homeschooling freedoms directly, as well as those on related topics (such as curfews, truancy, and driver education) that could indirectly impact homeschooled students. Our full-time lobbyist, Scott Price, has been meeting with legislators to let them know about our interest in or concerns about their bills and to gather additional information. This year we have added two legislative interns – motivated homeschooled students who will be learning about how the General Assembly works with “hands-on” involvement. Our interns will be following the progress of bills online, attending hearings and preparing testimony in support of this year’s sports access bills.
There are no bills this year that change the home instruction statute, the language permitting (and funding) part-time enrollment, the approved tutor provision or the religious exemption. Nevertheless, we examine every bill, identify any that include or make reference to these sections of the Code of Virginia, and monitor closely the progress of those bills to ensure that legislators don’t (intentionally or inadvertently) make changes that could impact homeschooling. This year’s big issue will once again be homeschool sports access. We are also watching a virtual schools bill.
Learn more about both of these topics – and what you can do to support the sports access bills—below.
Homeschool Sports Access Bills (“Tebow” Bills)
Sports access promises to be a high-profile issue again this year. Last year’s bill, which made it through the House of Delegates and failed by a single vote in the Senate Education and Health Committee, made headlines in Virginia and beyond, in such media outlets as The New York Times and TIME magazine. This year the media will undoubtedly take note again, as Del. Robert Bell’s (R-Charlottesville) homeschool sports access bill, HB 1442, now has a Senate companion, SB 812, patroned by Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Louisa). (Another of Sen. Garrett’s bills, SB 792, is expected to be tabled in favor of SB 812.) Delegates David Ramadan (R-South Riding) and Scott Lingamfelter (R-Woodbridge) are co-patrons of HB 1442.
VaHomeschoolers supports both HB 1442 and SB 812. Our 2012 Member Survey indicated that our membership strongly supports the implementation of homeschool eligibility rules for public school sports and activities, in some cases because their own children would like the opportunity to try out and in other cases because they see this as an issue of fairness and equity for homeschoolers in general.
Del. Bell and Sen. Garrett have included several changes in their bills that should address some of the objections and concerns of opponents of homeschool sports access. The bills specifically state that homeschool eligibility would be subject to the policy of each local school board – there would be no mandate on public schools. This means that, if the bills become law, homeschoolers would need to work with their local school boards to create local access policies. In that event, VaHomeschoolers will offer tips and talking points to assist homeschoolers who want to take that step. Qualified students would only be eligible at the public school in their residential attendance zone (no “team shopping”). They would have to be bona fide homeschoolers, in compliance with Virginia’s home instruction statute for at least two full, consecutive school years, including the two years immediately prior to seeking participation (“dropouts” would not qualify). Homeschoolers would also have to provide proof of two full years of satisfactory academic progress as required by the home instruction statute. Other eligibility rules required by the Virginia High School League (VHSL) would also apply.
How the Bills Would Work
Like last year’s sports access bill, this year’s “Tebow” bills would prohibit Virginia public schools from becoming members of VHSL (or any similar organization) if homeschooled students with the listed qualifications are not eligible to participate in the programs it governs, which include athletics and other competitive activities, such as debate. In other words, if VHSL did not change its eligibility rules to allow homeschooled students to participate, then no Virginia public school could be a VHSL member. But school boards would have the option to restrict homeschool eligibility at the local level due to language in the bills that says that homeschool eligibility “shall be subject to all policies governing such participation that the local school board may establish.”
Hearings Coming Soon!
Since this year’s General Assembly is a “short” session (scheduled to end on Feb. 23), we anticipate that hearings will be held very soon. HB 1442 has already been assigned to the Students and Early Education Subcommittee of the House Education Committee. The subcommittee convenes on Thursday mornings at 7:30 a.m., and the bill could be heard as soon as next Thursday, Jan. 24. The Senate Education and Health Committee has not yet assigned SB 812 to a subcommittee, and we expect that to happen this week (or the bill could be taken up by the full committee at the outset, as last year’s sports access bill was). Hearings for the Senate bill could begin as early as this week, but are more likely to begin next week or later.
What You Can Do
1. Send an email. Now is the time to place calls and send emails. Remember, legislators are most interested in hearing from their own constituents. Identify your legislators on the General Assembly website, then send an email to both your delegate and your senator by clicking the button that appears (your message will go to both of them). Ask them to “Please vote yes on HB 1442 and SB 812” when it comes before them. If you would like to, let them know why the issue of homeschool sports access matters to you.
2. Make a phone call. Take a few minutes to call the General Assembly “Constituent Viewpoint” number at 1-800-889-0229. You will be asked for your name, address, and the issue on which you are expressing your opinion (be sure to specifically refer to HB 1442 and SB 812). Your message will be transmitted to your legislators. (You can also request the number to speak with your legislator’s office directly.)
3. Plan a trip to Richmond. It may sound daunting, but Del. Bell has emphasized the vital role of homeschoolers’ involvement in supporting the success of these bills: “We need to make a strong impression in committee – so now is our best chance to rally supporters for the bill! Once the committee hearings are set, we will need as many homeschoolers as possible to show up. These committee hearings are often set on very short notice, so we need to get organized for them now.” VaHomeschoolers will let you know, via email (such as this one) and on our Facebook page, as soon as we know that a hearing has been scheduled. So keep an eye on your inbox and try to keep your schedule flexible. If you think your child would be willing to testify, help him or her to prepare a very short (1 minute or less) statement to read, explaining to legislators why they would like homeschool sports access. Observing our government in action is an educational field trip for kids of all ages – maybe you’d even like to plan to carpool with friends!
4. Share this information. Please send this email to friends and family and ask them to support these bills. Ask them to contact their legislators to express support for HB 1442 and SB 812. It only takes a moment, but it will make a big impact.
Virtual Schools Bill
VaHomeschoolers has taken a neutral position on HB 1555, patroned by Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton) and in line with Gov. McDonnell’s education agenda this session. This bill would establish the Virginia State Virtual School as a statewide school division for grades K through 12. Under this bill, any student eligible to attend public school in Virginia could enroll in the statewide virtual school for free. The bill allows homeschoolers to enroll on a part-time basis, while still remaining under the home instruction statute. This is not a homeschooling bill, but VaHomeschoolers is watching it closely to ensure that homeschooling freedoms are not affected.