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February 23, 2016

Freedom Bill Awaits Governor’s Signature

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On Tuesday, February 23, the West Virginia Legislature sent a homeschool freedom bill for signature to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.

With Tomblin’s signature, West Virginia will join the ranks of over a dozen states which, in the past decade, have rolled back burdensome regulations on homeschooling families. To see how homeschooling regulation has changed, read this HSLDA article.

YOUR ATTORNEY Mike Donnelly Mike Donnelly

Last year Governor Tomblin vetoed a similar bill. In West Virginia, the legislature can override a governor’s veto by a simple majority. However, because the legislature had adjourned, it had no chance to override the governor’s veto—a fact which made the outcome seem like a missed opportunity given the overwhelming majority by which the bill had passed. (This year’s homeschool freedom bill enjoyed similar support, passing 80–18 in the House and 26–6 in the Senate.)

Making changes to a longstanding law requires concentrated effort and support from outside and within the legislature. Senator Robert Karnes and Delegate Brian Kurcaba have been the prime sponsors of this bill since the 2014 session when it was first introduced. Their efforts were supported by state organizations including Christian Home Educators of West Virginia (CHEWV) and West Virginia Home Education Association (WVHEA). HSLDA attorney Michael Donnelly and CHEWV legislative liaison John Carey invested many hours in contacting legislators and shepherding the bill through the various committee processes.

Big Step Forward

The new law would improve what is among the most burdensome homeschooling regimes in the country by easing unnecessary bureaucratic requirements on families and school districts.

For example, in West Virginia academic assessments must be submitted annually to the local public school superintendent, but only nine other states require that all homeschool families submit assessments to the authorities. The proposed law would require a family to submit assessments less frequently—only in grades 3, 5, 8 and 11.

Under the proposed law, the annual notice of intent instead would only be submitted upon starting or stopping homeschooling, or if a family moved. The new law would also eliminate what HSLDA has called an unconstitutional 14-day waiting period that parents removing a child from the public schools had to abide by before starting home education. This waiting period has been a burdensome requirement , especially for parents with children having difficulty in the institutional school environment.

The new law would lower the minimum score required to demonstrate adequate progress on standardized tests from the 50th percentile—an unreasonably restrictive score—to around the 23rd percentile. Other states that have minimum test scores set the threshold for acceptable progress in the 13th–30th percentile range.

Due process protections in the new bill would make it harder for school districts to put up roadblocks for parents interested in homeschooling or in harassing those who already are. The proposed law would clarify that homeschoolers are not subject to truancy prosecutions and would also require a superintendent to have probable cause before seeking an order to deny home education.

Making the law simpler will allow families to homeschool with fewer bureaucratic requirements. HSLDA believes that parents are best equipped and empowered to make decisions about how their children will be educated, and this new law takes some big steps in that direction.