By Karen Skelton, VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs Director
The Virginia General Assembly opened its yearly session on 13 January 2016, and has 2,640 filed bills to address. Your government affairs team has been hard at work searching for bills which may impact homeschoolers, meeting with legislators to discuss these bills, and attending hearings. Our job is also to keep you informed. This first update of the legislative session provides you with a llist of some bills we are supporting, acting on or monitoring. This includes a few bills which are not true homeschooling bills but may be of notable interest to homeschoolers.
Before sharing the bills, I’d like to introduce the members of the Legislative Monitoring Team. Returning this year are dedicated volunteers Jim Angel, Lillian Brown, Chuck Gritton, Jill Keely, Parrish Mort, and Will Shaw. New this year are Lina Roberts, Ryan Martinez, and Micah Ticatch. Lina came to us with an interest in the sports access issue, Ryan is our first teen volunteer and has coordinated political campaigns, and Micah is an attorney and is serving as the team leader. Our lobbyist, Scott Price, continues to attend the General Assembly and meet with legislators on our behalf.
Following are highlights from the list of 30 bills we are watching and/or taking action on.
• HB131 — Del. Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville) – Homeschool Interscholastics (“Sports Access” or “Tebow” Bill) – Voted favorably out of the House Education Committee on Jan. 20, passed the full House vote 58-41 on Jan. 27. Next, the bill crosses over to the Senate for a second round of hearings and votes. VaHomeschoolers supports this bill.
• SB612 — Sen. Tom Garrett (R-Lynchburg) – A companion Sports Access bill, meaning it has the same content as HB131, but begins the process in the Senate. Having two identical bills allows them to go through hearings at the same time and improves the chances of one of them getting passed. Heard on Jan. 28 by the Senate Education & Health Committee, and passed favorably 8-7. The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. VaHomeschoolers supports this bill.
• HB209 — Del. Jim LeMunyon (R-Oak Hill) – A massive education bill (165 pages) intended to re-organize the existing education code. Section §23.1-600 is an addition which states that students who have completed a program of home instruction are eligible for state-supported financial aid and scholarships; when a grade point average or class rank is specified in the conditions, alternative equivalent measures (as developed by the State Council of Higher Education) may be used instead. VaHomeschoolers supports this bill.
• HB 389 — Del. Dave LaRock (R-Hamilton) — Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts. This bill would allow a parent of a child entering kindergarten, or whose child had been in public school the two preceding semesters, to apply for an education savings account. The monies in the account would be from the local school division and could be used for a variety of expenses including curriculum, online classes, and computer hardware and software. VaHomeschoolers is neutral on this bill.
VaHomeschoolers works hard to protect your homeschool freedoms and stay focused on this mission. We do this by staying politically neutral and not mixing causes. We maintain homeschooling as our only agenda and do not advocate for or against bills which are not directly related to homeschooling. With this in mind, we are not taking any position on the following bills, but share them because they may inadvertently affect homeschoolers, may apply when transferring to or from public school, or include information that is typically disseminated through schools to parents.
• SB540 — Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) – requires school boards to provide voluntary early childhood education programs for four- and five-year-olds not already in a program. VaHomeschoolers is monitoring to ensure this bill is not amended from “voluntary” to “mandatory” as that could lead to lowering the compulsory attendance age.
• HB670 — Del. Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville) – puts “educational neglect” in the Virginia code and increases the penalty to a Class 1 misdemeanor. While this bill addresses habitual truancy from public school, VaHomeschoolers has recommended insertion of a good faith clause to reduce the risk of misuse against homeschooling families.
• HB895 — Del. Tag Greason (R-Potomac Falls) and Del. Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) – alters high school graduation requirements in a number of ways. Section §22.1-253.13:4 reads: “Each local school board shall award diplomas to all secondary school students, including students who transfer from nonpublic schools or from home instruction, who (“earn the units of credit to” is replaced with) meet the requirements prescribed by the Board of Education. VaHomeschoolers will continue to monitor this bill.
• HB1342 — Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax Station) and Del. Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) – strikes the religious and medical exemption clauses from the existing code regarding the vaccine schedule. This bill gathered a lot of attention but was rescinded by the patron on Jan. 28. While this is not a homeschooling issue, we include it because Virginia’s homeschoolers are subject to the same vaccination laws as public school children. VaHomeschoolers will continue to monitor this bill.
If you have any questions or concerns about this legislation, or any other legislative issue, please contact VaHomeschoolers’ Director of Government Affairs, Karen Skelton, at GovtAffairs.