Great Week for Homeschoolers at the General Assembly

Last week the two bills in the General Assembly that had the greatest potential to affect homeschooling both saw success.  And a bill of concern was amended to make it innocuous to homeschoolers. VaHomeschoolers was happy to see our monitoring and lobbying efforts bring positive results.

HJ 92 – Religious Exemption Study Killed in Committee

Del. Tom Rust’s bill, HJ 92, was heard before the Rules: Studies subcommittee on Thursday, January 30. Del. Rust began his testimony stating he supported both homeschooling and the religious exemption. He indicated that this bill was needed so that school boards would know how to apply the law and so that children like Josh Powell, the young man featured in an article in The Washington Post, would have their wishes regarding their education heard. He stated that exemptions appeared unconstitutional and did not seem a safe practice, and that this exemption was unique in not requiring any accountability. He indicated he had received many letters for and against the bill and shared excerpts from several  letters that supported his bill. No one else testified in favor of the bill.

Del. Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) retrieved a copy of the state constitution and read the exact section that Del. Rust referenced and said that in reading it, he did not see how Del. Rust reached the conclusion that exemptions from compulsory attendance were unconstitutional. 

In opposition, testimony was provided first by a homeschool Religious Exemption graduate in college who emphasized the solid education she and her family and friends received under RE. She also shared that Josh Powell, who is attending Georgetown, has a younger sister at the University of Virginia and two younger siblings at Piedmont Virginia Community College. She expressed that The Washington Post article left out this important information that reflected differently on the Powell children’s education.

Parrish Mort then testified for VaHomeschoolers, sharing that there are exemptions to Compulsory Attendance in Virginia beyond the one for religion. Children who are age 10 and under who live more than a mile from a bus stop are automatically exempt. Additionally, if a child with their parent think that continuing an education has no value, a school board may grant them an exemption. Ms. Mort pointed out that this exemption is not unique in its lack of accountability and that 15 states only require notification of intent to homeschool and require nothing further, while an additional 11 states require neither notification nor accountability.

Lastly, Ms. Mort shared that the existing RE statute already provides school boards the authority to take a child’s wishes into consideration, may have parents reaffirm their religious objections to public school annually, require an exemption for each individual child, and provide guidelines for how to apply. Examples of school board policies on each of the above requirements were provided.

Scott Woodruff of HSLDA then testified on the constitutionality of the religious exemption and its effectiveness for the past 37 years.

Bob Shanks, a lobbyist representing HEAV, stood and expressed opposition, and two additional homeschooled RE graduates stood in opposition after the chair limited further testimony.

Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) and Del Robert Orrock (R-Thornburg), both committee members, also spoke in opposition to the bill prior to a motion that the subcommittee recommend that the bill be tabled. This motion was approved by a 3-1 voice vote.

The following day, the full House Rules Committee heard the bill. There was no further testimony for the bill and at the recommendation of the subcommittee and Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg), HJ 92 was tabled and died in committee. 

VaHomeschoolers is grateful to Speaker Howell for his avid opposition, Delegates Landes, Ware and Orrock for their thoughtful testimony, to the homeschool graduates who attended the hearings, and to our members who wrote or called the committee members to share their views. This team effort proved effective.

HB 63 – Homeschool Sports Access (“Tebow Bill”) Passes House and Moves on to Senate

On Monday, testimony for HB 63, the Homeschool Sports Access bill, was heard in the House Education Committee. Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), the bill’s patron, again did an outstanding job of testifying for homeschool sports access. Additionally a confident, well-spoken, homeschooled pre-teen did an impressive job of speaking on behalf of the bill. An amended version of HB 63 cleared the House Education committee by a vote of 13-8. It then proceeded through the House of Delegates, successfully passing the full House on Thursday by a vote of 60-39, gaining four more supporters this year than last.

You can see how each Delegate on the committee voted by visiting this page. 

The bill has now moved on to the Senate and been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health.  It is not currently on the docket, but VaHomeschoolers will notify families as soon as we have information on when the bill will be heard.

HB 221 – Students: Admission to Certain Children’s Residential Facilities

HB 221, patroned by Del. Richard Bell (R-Staunton), was a bill that inadvertently had the potential to affect homeschoolers in a negative way. Because of the way it was written, it would have required homeschoolers admitted to certain residential medical facilities to become public school students while in the facility and upon release. At VaHomeschoolers’ request, the patron added an amendment that made it clear the bill was to only apply to public school students. The amendment was adopted by the subcommittee and the full Education Committee, which has referred the amended version to the House Appropriations Committee.

We appreciate Del. Richard Bell for working with us to amend this bill.

Should you have questions or comments on these bills or any others, please feel free to write govtaffairs.

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