The Virginia General Assembly opened its 2014 session this past Wednesday, January 8 and it has already produced many bills of interest to homeschoolers; some very positive, others concerning and one that is an outright threat. As a result of these various bills and accompanying explanation, this will probably be the longest legislative announcement VaHomeschoolers has ever written (and hopefully will ever have to write). I ask that you indulge me and read all of it, but if you choose to skim, please pay close attention to HJ92. This bill is specific to religious exemption, but I believe it is important to all homeschoolers.
First, I want to share how grateful we are that our call for volunteers was heard and resulted in a fully staffed legislative monitoring team. This means that we are monitoring all our usual search terms – those that directly impact homeschooling (home instruction statute, religious exemption, etc.) as well as those on related topics (such as curfews, truancy, and driver education) that could indirectly impact homeschooled students. We are grateful to have the following folks monitoring legislation this year: Silvia Barrett, Barb Benfante, Lillian Brown, Tim Fite, Chuck Gritton, Robert Johnson, Jill Keely, Penny Sellers, Will Shaw, and Amy Wilson. We are also fortunate to have Jim Angel as our media representative. These individuals literally read and track legislation nightly for two and a half months to protect our homeschool freedoms. We all owe them our thanks.
So what has this fine team discovered? A lot in just a couple weeks. Topics include sports access, religious exemption, virtual schools, tax credits, school-provided standardized testing and residential children’s facilities. Scott Price, our lobbyist, has already met with several legislators on our behalf regarding these bills and this morning, he and I will be meeting with many more.
Learn more about these bills – and what you can do to support or oppose them—below.
Homeschool Sports Access Bill (“Tebow” Bill)- HB 63
See the full text of the bill HERE
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 and this year the media will undoubtedly take note again.
Del. Robert Bell (R-Charlottesville) and Chief Co-Patron Del David Ramadan (R-South Riding) are once again championing homeschool sports access with HB 63. This bill is a duplicate of last year’s bill. We are hopeful that this may be the year that Sports Access becomes a reality. Senator Blevins, who voted against the bill in previous years, has now retired, and we hope that both his seat and the seat of now- Lt. Governor Northam will be filled with supporters of sports access. Those appointments will not happen until after the special elections to replace these two members of the Senate.
HB63 has already been referred to the House subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education. No docket has been published yet, but it is possible that it could be heard in subcommittee as soon asthis Wednesday afternoon. We expect it to be successfully reported from subcommittee this year just as it has in past years.
As always we will keep you informed of the bill’s progress and when hearings are scheduled.
VaHomeschoolers supports HB 63. Our 2013 Member Survey indicated that our membership strongly supports the implementation of homeschool eligibility rules for public school sports and activities, as a matter of equity and fairness for homeschoolers in general even if their own children may not be interested.
For More on How This Bill Would Work click here.
What Can You Do? Plenty! Here is a list of ways you can make your support count
Religious Exemption- HJ 92
See the full text of the bill HERE
Del Tom Rust (R-Herndon) is patron to HJ 92, a bill that calls for a study of the religious exemption (RE). The bill would require the state Department of Education to:
1. Survey each local school board to determine (i) how the school board makes the determination that a student is eligible to be excused from attending school by reason of bona fide religious training or belief, (ii) whether the initial determination pursuant to clause (i) is reviewed, (iii) whether the school board requires the initial grant to be renewed and, if so, how often, and (iv) whether the school board monitors the educational progress of students who have been excused from attending school by reason of bona fide religious training or belief or requires the student’s parents to report on the student’s educational progress, or both; and
2. Make a recommendation to the General Assembly on how, if at all, § 22.1-254 of the Code of Virginia could be amended to better carry out the requirements of Article VIII, Sections 1 and 3 of the Constitution of Virginia.
Although Del. Rust’s aide told us that Rust supports Religious Exemption, VaHomeschoolers believes HJ 92 is an attempt to eliminate RE and place the blame on DOE. This conclusion is tied to the same reasons VaHomeschoolers opposes HJ92.
Reasons for VaHomeschoolers’ Opposition to HJ92
- HJ 92 is a waste of taxpayer’s dollars and resources, as a study is unnecessary. The answers to the questions posed are already known. The courts already have provided guidance on how school boards should apply the statute. Some school boards require periodic renewal and others do not. And school boards do not have the authority to monitor educational progress of students under RE as they are exempt from the provisions of the compulsory attendance code and the home instruction statute.
- There is no statistical evidence to support changing or revising the Religious Exemption code which has been in existence since 1976.
- HJ 92 will ultimately deny religious freedom to Virginia families. The bill is written to justify the dissolution of the Religious Exemption (RE). It suggests the application of educational monitoring, by the local school board, of students educated under the RE, despite the fact that such monitoring is not permitted by or performed under current code. To add such regulation or oversight would effectively end the RE, making it no different from the home instruction statute (§ 22.1-254.1). The home instruction statute is incompatible with the religious beliefs and practices of some religious groups in Virginia, and does not allow them to educate as their faith dictates. For example, Amish communities practice formal education through 8th grade (focusing thereafter on work skills), but would be required under the home instruction statute to educate through 12th grade.
- The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in its ruling in Wisconsin v Yoder that the benefits of universal education do not justify a violation of the First Amendment.
- HJ 92 is founded on a false premise. Article VIII, sections 1 and 3 of the state constitution, which are referenced, require the state to provide a free, accessible and high quality education but do NOT mandate that it be accessed by all families.
Since the answers to the questions proposed in the study are commonly known and the bill’s premise that accountability is a constitutional requirement is a false one, we must conclude that Del. Rust is disingenuous in his statement of support for RE and that his hope is to show that students are not being monitored and thus RE should be amended.
My family doesn’t use the RE so why should I be concerned?
On a practical level, HJ92, if passed, would establish a movement toward increased regulation of homeschooling. This bill is an attempt by the patron to assert that the state’s right to provide a particular education to children outweighs the parent’s custodial right to determine the format and content of that education. Although this bill as written applies only to RE, it could open the way for legislators to apply the same approach to home instruction in the future.
There is also a matter of principle, which is important to all of us, no matter what faith we practice — or even if we practice none. HJ92 would encroach on Virginia families’ First Amendment freedom of religious belief and practice, when it comes to the upbringing and education of their children.
What Can You Do?
HJ92 has been referred to the House Rules Committee. We need to let the members of this committee know we oppose this bill. If your delegate is a member of the Rules Committee:
Send an email. Remember, legislators are most interested in hearing from their own constituents. Identify your legislators on the General Assembly website, determine if they serve on the House Rules Committee, and if so, then send an email to your delegate by clicking the button that appears. Ask them to “Please vote no on HJ 92” when it comes before them. Share your reasons for opposing the bill.
Make a phone call. Take a few minutes to call the General Assembly “Constituent Viewpoint” number at1-800-889-0229. You will be asked for your name, address, and the issue on which you are expressing your opinion (be sure to specifically refer to HJ 92). Your message will be transmitted to your legislators. (You can also request the number to speak with your legislator’s office directly.)
Share this message with friends and family and ask them to email or call.
Homeschool Tax Credit Bills
There are currently two tax credit bills aimed at benefiting homeschoolers. VaHomeschoolers is neutral on all tax credit bills. Results from our 2013 member survey show only 15% of our members support tax credits with the remainder almost evenly opposed or neutral.
Del. David Ramadan (R-South Riding) has a new variation on his homeschool tax credit bill this year.HB239 includes broader language than Del. Ramadan’s tax credit bill last year, stating that the credit may be applied for “home instruction related material and services” instead of only for a specific list of items such as text books or curriculum. It provides that “the credit per child would equal the lesser of $500 or the amount actually paid in the taxable year for such costs for the child. In no case, however, shall the credit allowed to the parent or legal guardian exceed $2000 for the taxable year.” See the full text of the bill HERE.
HB950 patroned by Del. Dave LaRock (R-Hampton) would provide tax credits to new or returning homeschool or private school families. Eligibility would only apply for students who were not homeschooled the previous tax year. We have spoken with Del. LaRock’s aide regarding the limitations of this bill and were told that it was intended to remove the fiscal burden on the state (and reduce objection to the bill). Families could receive up to a $2000 credit, but the state would save the $7000 in real dollars it spent the year before when the child was in public school. See the full text of the bill HERE.
Other Bills of Interest
HB221 is a bill that is focused on determining funding for students who have been admitted to certain children’s residential facilities for medical treatment. Unfortunately, the language of Del. Richard Bell’s (R–Staunton) bill would no longer allow the option of continuing ongoing home instruction or education under religious exemption for children in this scenario. It would also require the child to be enrolled in public school upon release from the residential facility. See the full text of the bill HERE.
VaHomeschoolers believes that this bill was not intended to restrict families from home schooling. We have drafted some new language that we will present to Del. Bell today which we believe would still accomplish his goals while maintaining the ability of parents to choose how to comply with the compulsory attendance code.
VaHomeschoolers opposes HB221 as currently written.
Del. Randy Minchew (R- Leesburg) has included language in HB447, a bill on assessments in the public schools which would require schools to offer the latest version of a normed test tohomeschoolers to facilitate compliance with the requirements of home instruction. This bill would not mandate homeschoolers to take the school-provided test, just that it must be made available. See the full text of the bill HERE.
VaHomeschoolers supports HB447.
There are several other bills that open the home instruction statute or deal with standards of learning. We will continue close monitoring of all of these in case any hostile language is attached during hearings.
As always we will keep you posted on the progress of these bills and any others of interest that may be filed in the coming days. We will also alert you to upcoming hearings for both the sports access bill and the religious exemption study bill.
If you have any questions on any of these bills, please write govtaffairs.