The Virginia General Assembly opened its yearly session on 14 January 2015. Since each odd-numbered year hosts a short session of 45 days, the action kicked off right at the starting gate and has been keeping a fast pace ever since. Your government affairs team has been hard at work to find bills that may affect homeschoolers and to meet with legislators to discuss bills and propose changes, to attend hearings, and to keep you informed. This update provides you with a list of current bills we are monitoring, and offers some steps for action if you would like to support a bill.
First off, I’d like to introduce the members of the Legislative Monitoring Team: Jim Angel, Barb Benfante, Lillian Brown, Tim Fite, Chuck Gritton, Guy Holland, Jill Keely, Parrish Mort, Will Shaw, and Amy Wilson. We welcome Guy Holland as a first-time volunteer this season; the rest of the team are returning members (which demonstrates that the project is interesting and manageable and hasn’t scared them off! Please keep that in mind if you’re looking for a way to help out next year.) Our lobbyist, Scott Price, continues to attend the General Assembly and meet with legislators on our behalf. We are so grateful to this dedicated team that makes our legislative work possible.
While not all bills that we are watching directly affect homeschoolers, we monitor them to ensure that amendments do not inadvertently restrict homeschooling. Below are some of the more significant bills we are watching and/or taking action on:
- HB 1626H1 — Homeschool Sports Access Bill (“Tebow” Bill) – Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) is again the patron of the sports access bill that would allow local school divisions the option of allowing homeschooled students to try out for activities governed by the Virginia High School League (VHSL). This is not limited to sports but also includes interscholastic competitions such as drama and debate. This year, Del. Bell greatly revised the bill in hopes of garnering more support. However, VaHomeschoolers concluded that the new version was not as effective and asked Del. Bell to amend the bill by means of substituting last year’s version. (This is why the bill is now marked with the –H1 suffix.) During Monday’s House Education committee meeting, VaHomeschoolers Executive Director Parrish Mort spoke in support of the bill, as did several homeschooled students. After hearing testimony from both sides, the bill was voted favorably 13-9 out of the House Education Committee. The bill has passed its second reading on the House floor and will be voted on today. If it passes in the House (which we are optimistic about) it crosses over to the Senate. Please see below this list for more details and steps you can take to support passage of this long-overdue bill.
- HB 1307 — Del. Steven Landes (R-Weyers Cave) — Removes the requirement to submit social security numbers of students enrolled in public schools to Virginia Dept of Education (VDOE). VaHomeschoolers asked Del. Landes to amend the bill so that the same protections would be afforded to homeschoolers. The bill was amended in committee to now include the words “or receiving home instruction.” HB 1307 was voted favorably out of committee on 1/26 and will be voted on by the full House today.
- SB 1383 – Sen. Richard Black (R-Leesubrg) — Prohibits school boards from disclosing to VDoE information submitted by families under the home instruction statute or religious exemption. The original intent of the bill was for it to prevent the sharing of this information with any government agency but the language was altered by legislative services. As such, Sen. Black intends to offer an amendment that would say “or any other agency.” This bill is on the docket for today’s (Thursday) Senate Education and Health committee meeting.
- HB 1753 – Del. Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton) — Amends the Home Instruction statute to not require Evidence of Progress for “children who begin home instruction on or after the first day of February of the school year.” This bill is assigned to an education subcommittee on Tuesday 2/03/2015 at 7:30AM.
- HB 1754 — Del. Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton) Amends the Home Instruction statute under Testing Options by specifying that the ACT, SAT, or PSAT test may be used as Evidence of Progress. This is a means that is currently used by some families and one that may be accepted at the discretion of the school district superintendent. The bill will be heard in subcommittee on Tuesday 2/03/2015 at 7:30AM.
- SB 1403 – Sen. Steve Martin (R-Chesterfield) – A companion bill to HB 1754, it underwent a change in legislative services that removed some small but important words that could diminish its effectiveness. We have consulted with Sen. Martin and requested the missing phrase to be re-entered.
Details for Taking Action on HB 1626H1, Sports Access Bill
At the time of publication, HB 1626H1 should be in front of the full House for a vote. If it passes, it crosses over to the Senate, where it has only been heard twice by the Senate Committee on Education and Health. This means that very few state senators know anything about this bill; it’s up to us to educate them! Here’s what you can do:
- Call or email your senator to express support for HB 1626H1.
- Get the word out: Encourage neighbors, friends, and family in Virginia to do so as well.
- Plan to attend: If HB 1626H1 passes the full House, it will be heard on a Thursday in February by the Senate Education and Health Committee. We will inform you as soon as we know the exact date but we are anticipating February 5 or 12. The hearings begin at 8:30 a.m.
Senators who are on the fence about this bill may be influenced by seeing how many Virginia citizens want them to vote yes. If you would like to see homeschool sports access become a reality in Virginia – for your own children, for other homeschoolers you know, or simply because you think it’s the right thing to do – your presence at the hearing could make a difference. In fact, three years ago opponents to the bill brought a school bus of public school athletes to testify against it.
If your child would like to testify in support of the bill, encourage him or her to prepare a very brief (2 or 3 sentences) statement to read about how this issue affects him or her personally. Time for testimony will be very limited, and we’d like as many homeschooled students as possible to have a chance to speak. Please email VaHomeschoolers if your child might like to testify. We are happy to help with speaking tips, and this will also help us organize student-speakers on the day of the hearing.
Senate Education and Health Committee Members
Listed below are the committee members. If any of these is your senator, it is especially important that you contact him or her before the Senate committee meets to express your support for HB 1626H1.