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West Virginia

May 16, 2017

Hostile Legislator Suggests Common Core for Homeschoolers

Some West Virginia lawmakers are still reluctant to fully recognize the right of families to homeschool, as evidenced by open hostility in the state Senate and pushback from the governor during the 2017 legislative session.

Governor James C. Justice vetoed legislation that would have granted homeschool students equal access to public school vocational classes and sports. And a senator who opposed the 2016 homeschool modernization law has continued to disparage home education and suggest new ways to thwart it.

During floor debate on House Bill 2196, which would have made homeschool students eligible for public high school extracurricular activities, witnesses heard Senator Michael Romano propose that homeschool students be required to follow the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Romano has been a vocal opponent of homeschooling in West Virginia for a long time. He has done everything he can to oppose improvements in state laws that would benefit families who have chosen to exercise their fundamental liberty to educate their children at home.

Romano’s invoking the Common Core is tantamount to calling for increased government control over home education. Many parents reject the Common Core’s one-size-fits-all approach as antithetical to homeschooling’s ideal of providing individualized education.

The Common Core has also been eschewed by an increasing number of state legislatures. Likewise, West Virginia continues to introduce numerous bills requiring the creation of West Virginia-specific standards to replace the Common Core. No single bill has yet made it through both houses of the legislature.

If West Virginia’s public schools were among the nation’s top performers, perhaps we could appreciate the governor’s and legislators’ points of view. However, West Virginia public school academic achievement consistently ranks among the lowest according to various education performance indices. As it stands, legislators have no excuse for making it harder for children to seek alternatives to an educational system that is among the worst-performing in the country.

Yet Senator Romano has been among the most outspoken and actively hostile. With legislators like Senator Romano in power, West Virginia homeschooling families will continue to be at risk from increased government interference. HSLDA encourages our West Virginia members and friends to consider how they could support the election of more homeschool-friendly delegates and senators, especially in the 12th Senatorial District, which includes Harrison, Braxton, Clay, Lewis, and Gilmer counties.

Several homeschool-friendly bills did pass the House and Senate during the 2017 legislative session, but these unfortunately did not make it past the governor’s veto pen.

Governor Justice vetoed H.B. 2196, the so-called “Tim Tebow” bill which would have allowed homeschool students to try out for public school sports teams. He also rejected H.B. 2589, a proposal to clarify that homeschool students should be treated equally for the purposes of enrolling in county vocational schools.

In his veto message, Governor Justice said that if homeschool students want to participate in a public school’s extracurricular activities, they must enroll in the school as spelled out in Senate Bill 630. That measure, which the governor did sign, makes it possible for public schools to create virtual schools rather than requiring students to attend a brick-and-mortar school. HSLDA has consistently opposed virtual public school programs.

House Bill 2589, also vetoed, was another measure that would have required vocational schools run by counties to treat homeschool students equally for purposes of enrollment. Governor Justice said that this bill “interfered” with local control of education and would not allow counties to give public school students preference.

Although there has been progress—notably 2016’s homeschool modernization act—freedom is never free from the risk of being undermined by those who believe that the government should control education.

Hostility to home education in the governor’s mansion as well as from key legislators is a problem that will have to be solved politically if homeschoolers hope to advance justice and freedom in the Mountain State.