FAQs about homeschooling laws, lobbyists, and the General Assembly from your VaHomeschoolers Legislative Committee.
Q: True or False: Even though homeschooling is legal and becoming increasingly mainstream in Virginia, homeschoolers still need to be concerned about monitoring homeschooling legislation and lobbying the General Assembly.
A: TRUE. Sometimes legislators unintentionally put forth legislation that can negatively impact homeschoolers. We need to call this to the patron’s attention, so that the patron can make revisions in order to achieve his desired outcome for the bill without negatively affecting homeschoolers. If he is not willing to make necessary revisions, we must then lobby for others to remedy the bill. There can also be bills which exclude homeschoolers from certain activities, rights or prerogatives, or that make the requirements for homeschooling stiffer in ways we would not find desirable. Finally, we still need to lobby for favorable legislation that further promotes the rights and opportunities of homeschoolers.
Q: True or False: Most legislators spend very little time thinking about homeschooling legislation.
A: TRUE. A legislator typically spends literally minutes reviewing a piece of legislation, unless he wrote it or sponsored it. To put this matter into perspective, last year the General Assembly passed over 2000 pieces of legislation over the course of only 60 days. This does not include all the bills that were rejected or carried over to the next session. Only a tiny number of bills dealt directly or indirectly with homeschooling.
Legislators usually cannot read every piece of legislation; their legislative aides do some of the reading and reviewing of bills, and may provide summaries for the legislators to read. Furthermore, most legislators know very little about homeschoolers or homeschooling beyond what they may have heard or read about in the mainstream media or assume based on stereotypes.
Lobbyists play an important role in the legislative process by explaining to legislators how bills might affect certain groups of constituents. VaHomeschoolers lobbyists can visit legislators and their aides to present the homeschooling perspective on pending bills and help dispel any myths or false generalizations they may have.
Q: True or False: It’s a good idea for homeschoolers to participate in legislative alerts and telephone trees, so their legislators will know how they stand on homeschooling issues.
A: SOMETIMES. It is important for homeschoolers to be aware of the issues that are before our legislators. When any party issues an alert, gather sufficient information about this legislation, so you can make an informed decision as to whether to respond to it. In time-sensitive situations, use your best judgment and act as you think appropriate.
Telephone calls to your legislator about a particular bill are most effective if you place the call no later than the day before the legislators go into session to vote. After this time, your message will be placed in a hard copy or electronic folder, where it may not be read until after the vote on the bill.
Legislative alerts are most effective when used after the other methods of handling the situation have been exhausted or are not feasible. If legislative alerts are issued for every bill, and people call their legislators about every bill, then alerts can lose their effectiveness as a tool. In some cases, a barrage of telephone calls can unnecessarily antagonize the legislators you are trying to influence. Many legislative challenges can be handled with subtlety, in person at the Capitol, rather than through floods of messages.
VaHomeschoolers considers issuing legislative alerts under the following circumstances:
- After other appropriate and available means have been exhausted;
- When the alert can be issued in time for members to receive it and act on it before the bill is voted upon by legislators.
Q: True or False: Homeschooling organizations should share their ongoing legislative strategies with their membership at all times, so that members will stay informed about ongoing legal developments.
A: SOMETIMES. It’s very important that homeschoolers be kept abreast of pending legislation. VaHomeschoolers strives to do this through its bimonthly newsletter, its e-mail announcement list for VaHomeschoolers members, and, in cases of absolute emergency or optimal timing, legislative alerts.
Events at the legislature can develop and change rapidly, sometimes in reaction to the strategies of other parties, sometimes in reaction to the moods of our all-too-human legislators. A strategy for a given bill can change several times in the course of a session or even a day.
If there weren’t two sides to every bill that’s proposed, it wouldn’t be necessary for lobbyists to be at the General Assembly. Since there are two sides working toward differing goals, and both sides wish to be successful at meeting their goals, we cannot always share all information on a real-time basis. Revealing all strategies and information can give our opponents time and material to counter our efforts.
Q: True or False: The President of the United States plays an important role in making and changing our homeschooling laws.
A: FALSE. Homeschooling laws are written at the state level by state delegates and senators, and implemented at the local level by school superintendents, local school boards, etc. The governor also plays a role in homeschooling legislation, since he can approve, veto, or suggest amendments to legislation that is approved by the General Assembly. The President of the United States and the Congress create laws and policies for the US Department of Education, which does not regulate homeschooling or dictate policy towards homeschoolers at this time.
Q: True or False: Homeschooling legislation always falls along party lines. Republican lawmakers always support and vote for legislation that is favorable to homeschoolers, while Democratic lawmakers always support and vote for legislation which is unfriendly to homeschoolers.
A: FALSE. There have been Republican delegates and senators who have been extremely homeschooling-unfriendly. At the same time, some Democrats have supported homeschooling. For instance, in the 2000 General Assembly, SB486, a bill to improve the home instruction statute, was patroned by a ranking Democrat in the Senate and opposed by many Republicans in the House.
Most legislators, regardless of their political affiliation, know little about homeschoolers or homeschooling. VaHomeschoolers lobbyists have found that legislators are more likely to vote for favorable homeschooling legislation if they have had positive contacts with homeschoolers, either in Richmond or in their own community.
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