By Karen Skelton, VaHomeschoolers Government Affairs Director
The VaHomeschoolers legislative monitoring team is wrapping up its work on the 2016 General Assembly session. A grand total of 3,286 bills were introduced; using a system of search terms relevant to home instruction, our team uncovered 30 bills of interest. Of these 30, six passed completely, three passed but were vetoed by the governor, five others passed but are still pending governor’s action no later than April 10th, while 16 failed to pass. Following are summaries of nine bills of potential interest and relevance to homeschoolers.
Sports Access Bills
HB131 (Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville) and SB612 (Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Lynchburg) passed both chambers of the General Assembly and were sent to the governor, who promptly vetoed them as he did in 2015. The bills were then sent back to the General Assembly for an attempt to override the veto, but were unsuccessful. An override requires 2/3 majority in each chamber. The House vote on HB131 was 57-42, but needed 66 votes for the override. The Senate did not even attempt a vote on SB612 because it knew it was short the number of votes needed to secure an override. As disappointing as this veto was, we are already pursuing new ideas to improve chances for a successful outcome in 2017.
Community College Dual-Enrollment Tuition
Del. Rob Bell introduced an amendment to the state budget to ensure that policies in place for dual-enrolled public high school students would also be available for dual-enrolled homeschoolers. Be advised that this has no tangible impact on the current status of dual enrollment fees, which are set by the colleges themselves. Rather, this is part of a long term effort to ensure that, if/when tuition rates are lowered for public school students, the same rates will apply to homeschoolers. Del. Bell has sponsored a number of bills over the years in support of the homeschooling community. If you would like to send a message of thanks to Del. Bell, he can be reached at rob.
Creation of the Virginia Virtual School (VVS)
HB8 (Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton), a bill that has been in the works since 2010, passed the General Assembly. This bill establishes a virtual school to be made available to any school-age person in the Commonwealth, grades k-12. The program is to be run by a state-level board of directors and will begin enrolling students by June 2018. VVS will be limited to 5,000 students statewide, and to no more than 2% of any school district’s total student population. VVS will be considered part of the public school education system and will therefore be tuition-free. This bill passed in 2015, but included a “re-enactment clause,” meaning it needed to pass again in 2016 before taking effect. The Virginia Education Association (VEA) opposed this bill and has requested that Governor McAuliffe veto it. Deadline for action is April 10. Please note that, while currently homeschooled students are eligible to enroll in the Virginia Virtual School, enrollment will transfer them from the status of homeschooling to that of online public school.
Equivalent measures for scholarships, financial aid
HB209 (Del. Jim LeMunyon, R-Oak Hill) is a massive education bill (165 pages) intended to reorganize the existing education code. It solidly passed both the House (98-0) and the Senate (39-0) and has just been signed by the governor this week. Within this bill is a new section §23.1-600, which states that students who have completed a program of home instruction are eligible for state-supported financial aid and scholarships. Additionally, when a grade point average or class rank is specified in the conditions, homeschooled students may use alternative equivalent measures (to be developed by the State Council of Higher Education). This new language may prove helpful for Virginia’s homeschoolers when applying for scholarships and financial aid, although it remains to be seen what measures the State Council of Higher Education will develop for this purpose. VaHomeschoolers will continue to monitor this and keep you informed.
Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts
In the January 29th Legislative Update, HB 389 (Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton) was described as a bill that “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 come from the local school division and parents could use it for a variety of expenses including curriculum, online classes, and computer hardware and software.” Just as in 2015, this bill saw a lot of action, debate and amendments that turned it into a rather different bill altogether; one that no longer applies to homeschoolers or to a child entering kindergarten. The substitute bill applies only when a student is identified as having a disability, is receiving (or is eligible to receive) services from a school division, and is enrolled in public school.
Revision of high school graduation requirements
(Not applicable to homeschooled students, but of interest for those who decide to transfer to public school, something which has been quite difficult to do before now due to rigid graduation requirements.) Two companion bills: HB895 (Del. Tag Greason, R-Potomac Falls) and SB336 (Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News) had a wild ride through the House and Senate this year, yet ultimately passed. These bills alter high school graduation requirements in a number of ways, such as removing “verified units of credit,” revising what graduates are expected to know and do, and offering technical/industry certifications in place of a standard diploma. Section §22.1-253.13:4 now states: Each local school board shall award diplomas to all secondary school students, including students who transfer from nonpublic schools or from home instruction, who meet the requirements prescribed by the Board of Education. Similar to HB209, it remains to be seen what alternative requirements will be developed by the state Board of Education to award transfer credit for homeschool coursework.
Establishment of Charter Schools
Four bills this year pertained to the management of charter schools. Three were unsuccessful, but SB734 (Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg) passed. Its purpose is to add guidelines for public charter schools to an already existing code on charter schools. This bill is currently on the governor’s desk, but it is unclear if he intends to veto it. We share this information because many homeschoolers have expressed interest in alternative forms of education such as charter schools and virtual schools in the event they are unable to continue homeschooling.
Educational neglect charges for school truancy
While HB670 was not a homeschooling bill per se, VaHomeschoolers recommended – and the patron accepted — insertion of a good faith clause to reduce the risk of misuse against homeschooling families. Regardless, HB670 did not make it out of subcommittee.
Many thanks are in order: to this year’s legislative monitoring team, to lobbyist Scott Price, to families who traveled to Richmond to support the Sports Access bill, and to those of you who contacted your representatives or the governor about these or any other bills. Finally, we appreciate all our members who filled out the Annual Member Survey in 2015. Your input provides direction for our legislative work each year.
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.