Legislative Alert

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Be updated with timely information concerning your rights. During the Oklahoma legislative session you will receive information that may apply to home education.
 
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Proposed legislation:

HB2621 – Rep. Reynolds. Will make homeschool families and those with students in private schools  100% exempt from the Ad Valorem tax. OCHEC and HSLDA Comments: House Bill 2621 would refund 100% of the property tax paid by a parent with one or more children who is enrolled in a private school or who is home-schooled. HSLDA is generally supportive of a tax credit bills like House Bill 2621 and we definitely like the general idea proposed by the bill. However, we generally only support bills that provide a tax credit for anyone who has educational expenses for their school age children. This bill only applies to private school or homeschool parents and in a sense, targets them. In addition, the term “home-schooled” is not generally used in Oklahoma law. The more common phrase is “educated by other means.” Just it appears in the Oklahoma Constitution. We understand that this language will be changed. Finally, the bill is not specific as to what would be required to claim the credit. The bill states that "any taxpayer who has one or more children who attend private school or who are homeschooled" are eligible. It is likely that something will be required to demonstrate that the child is being homeschooled. Because tax credit bills like House Bill 2621 simply allow the person claiming the credit or refund to keep their own money, HSLDA is supportive of the intent behind the bill. However, because of the reasons stated above, we are currently neutral on this bill. That being said, we strongly support OCHEC’s opposition to this bill. Oklahoma is a unique state regarding the protection of homeschool freedom in the state constitution and the absence of any homeschool regulation. Since any bill that would grant a benefit to homeschool families would require some evidence of homeschooling, there is a legitimate concern that such a system could lay the foundation for future regulation of all homeschooling families in the state.

ACTION - None at this time. We will let you know if we require any future action.

 

SJR53 – Rep. Loveless. Will make homeschool families exempt from full or partial Ad Valorem tax via a constitutional amendment. OCHEC and HSLDA Comments: Senate Joint Resolution 53 would add an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution to allow a tax credit for the head of household who provided a homeschool education to one or more of their dependents under the age of 19. The head of household could claim ½ of the property tax paid the previous year for each child, up to a maximum of the total property tax amount paid the previous year. Again, while HSLDA is generally strongly in favor of education tax credit bills, there are some concerns about this amendment. First, the bill uses the phrase “homeschooled” and then defines it as an “educational program provided through a means other than a public or private school.” We would prefer slightly different language. However, the biggest concern is that this credit would only apply to parents educating their children at home. HSLDA generally supports legislation that applies to anyone who has educational related expenses for their school age child. As a policy, HSLDA does not advocate for special treatment for homeschooling families, instead we advocate for the freedom to educate our children and the opportunity to be on equal footing with other educational choices. In addition,

SJR 53 is a constitutional amendment. The amendment requires further regulations to be adopted for the implementation of this credit. At this time there is no information on what those regulations would be. Given the fact that Oklahoma is unique in protecting homeschool freedom under the state constitution this amendment has the potential to create a system of verification of who is homeschooling and what it is. This is troubling. For these reasons, HSLDA is currently neutral on SJR 53 but may oppose this bill in the near future. OCHEC however, will be opposing this bill. There are too many unanswered questions and specification as to how this bill would be implemented. We know that it will require some kind of verification and regulation and the nebulous language that is used will certainly leave it open to interpretation by other agencies and legislators looking for a “foot in the door” to regulating home education.

ACTION - None at this time. We will let you know if we require any future action.

HB3398 – Rep. Nelson. An Education Savings Account (ESA) for those with students in private schools. Homeschool families will not be able to participate as funds would have to go directly to them and not a school. OCHEC and HSLDA Comments: House Bill 3398 would create education savings accounts for parents to use to privately educate their children. Parents educating their children at home by providing other means of education would not be eligible. Under House Bill 3398 Oklahoma would take between 30-90% of the state aid generated by the student enrolling in public school and place in an education savings account for use by the parent. o In order to be eligible the student must be within two times of the federal reduced or free lunch program income bracket and either enrolled in the public school or be eligible to enroll in kindergarten/pre-kindergarten. Under the bill the parents’ income level will determine how much is deposited in to the education savings account for their child. The education savings account under House Bill 3398 can be used for things like tuition and fees at a participating private school or postsecondary school, textbooks and other learning materials, educational therapies or services from a licensed or accredited provider, tutoring services (tutor must be register with OK DOE), services provided by public school (including extracurricular programs), nationally normed achievement testing, and contributions to a Coverdell Savings Account.

House Bill 3398 would prohibit the education savings account money from being used for purchasing computer hardware and electronic equipment, educational equipment or instruments, transportation, and any consumable educational supplies, including but not limited to, paper and pens.

This bill also would allow the state to suspend and terminate any education savings account that made expenditures beyond the scope permitted by state law. In addition the parent could be referred for investigation by the OK Attorney General for any violation, including failing to deposit the sales price of any items originally purchase with education saving account funds.

While House Bill 3398 explicitly prohibits parents educating their children by other means (homeschoolers) from being eligible for these educational savings accounts, HSLDA is still opposed to this bill for two reasons.

First, these education savings accounts are highly regulated and controlled by the state. As they should be when state money is being used. While these types of bills allow for greater educational choice, which HSLDA strongly supports, we believe the use of state educational funds and the supervision that comes with it is too great a burden on freedom for private education.

Secondly, the bill will likely face legal battles. Several others states have passed similar ideas and while most have initially passed muster, the use of state money for these programs has not been fully litigated. Therefore, HSLDA is opposed to this bill as drafted.

ACTION - None at this time. We will let you know if we require any future action.


HB1384 – Rep. Kern. A Parental Bill of Rights.
OCHEC and HSLDA Comments: HSLDA and Parental Rights have been active in getting this legislation through. We need to support this as much as possible. It is slated to be up for vote in the House within the first two weeks of session and then move on to the Senate. We are asking all Senators to please accept it as is and make significant changes. This bill is very similar to statutes that have passed in other states, with Arizona being the most similar.
The foundation of House Bill 1384 is this; that the "liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of their children is a fundamental right."
If passed, House Bill 1384 would prohibit the state from infringing upon parents' rights unless the state could demonstrate that there is a compelling governmental interest as applied to the child. In order to override the parents’ right the governmental interest must be of the highest order. In addition, the restriction of the parental right must be narrowly tailored and the state interest could not be met by some less restrictive means.
The whole purpose in this standard is to ensure that Oklahoma law recognizes that parental rights are fundamental. The language used in House Bill 1384 follows a number of U.S. Supreme Court cases and is closely modeled after a statute in Arizona.
Besides further acknowledging the fact that parents have the right to direct their child's education, House Bill 1384 also protects the following:
• The right to direct the upbringing of your minor child.
• The right to direct the moral or religious training of your minor child.
• The right to make healthcare decisions for your minor child.
• The right to access and review all medical records of your minor child (unless prohibited by law).
• The right to consent in writing before a biometric scan of your minor child is made.
• The right to consent in writing before any record of your child's blood or DNA is created.
• The right to consent in writing before the state makes a video/voice recording of your child (certain limited exceptions).
• The right to be notified promptly when any state employee/entity suspects that a criminal offense has been committed against your child by someone other than you.
There is also language in House Bill 1384 that states that parents have inalienable rights that are more comprehensive than those listed in the bill, and that it does not prescribe all rights of parents.
Finally, House Bill 1384 does not authorize or allow a parent to engage in any abusive or neglectful conduct. Under the bill, no parent would have an excuse to abuse or neglect a child in violation of already existing Oklahoma law. The bill would also not provide any protection for any parental action or decision that would end life.

 


House Bill 1906- Extracurricular activities (HSLDA/OCHEC Insights)

Rep. Cleveland
THIS BILL WILL WAS PRESENTED IN THE 2013 SESSION BUT DID NOT RECEIVE THE NECESSARY MOTIONS TO GO TO VOTE IN COMMITTEE. WE HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE IT OR SOMETHING SIMILAR WILL BE PRESENTED AGAIN IN 2014.
  1. Applies to children 5 to 21. Currently under OSSAA Rule 1 any student who reaches his/her nineteenth birthday before September 1 will not be eligible for athletic competition. Any student who reaches his/her twenty-first birthday before September 1 will not be eligible for non-athletic extra curricular activities. Minor point-bill says “on o rbefore September 1” while OSSAA Rule says “before September 1.”
  2. Bill states that “eligibility of an individual child to participate in extra curricular activities shall be determined in accordance with school district eligibility rules and policies which are applicable to all other children.” Notwithstanding that further down in the bill it prohibits school districts being part of an association that “discriminates in any manner against a student that is being educated by other means and is not enrolled in a public or private school.” Currently school districts are the ones that apply the rules/policies for eligibility to participate within the OSSAA system.
  3. As mentioned above, this bill will prohibit school districts from being part of an association (i.e. OSSAA) that “discriminates” against a student that is not enrolled in public or private school.  Discrimination, in a legal context, involves a protected class(i.e. race, gender, age, etc.). Homeschooling is generally not a protected class nor do we want to be considered as such.
  4. While the bill is rather vague about what requirements a homeschool/other means of education student would have to do to be eligible (left up to the school district) it will at the least, require a student to provide proof of residency.

As far as the overall issue of extracurricular activities, these are some of the concerns HSLDA has:

  1. Bill is too vague as to what is going to be required for a student to be eligible. Current OSSAA regulations require the following:
    1. 90% attendance in class
    2. Passing grade in any five subjects to be counted for graduation in that last semester
    3. Eligibility checks are made after three weeks of a semester to maintain eligibility
    4. Seniors must be enrolled in at least four classes.

How are these requirements going to play out for homeschool students?

  1. It would seems likely that extensive rules would be needed to address these issues. Most likely this would have to happen at the OSSAA level. It is uncertain whether OSSAA would understand the true diversity of homeschool programs and it could lead to rather draconian requirements for homeschool school students to demonstrate scholastic eligibility.
  2. Of the 10 states that have no reporting/testing requirements like Oklahoma, only one has a right to participate in extracurricular activities (AK). However, even then the program must be accredited by a recognized accrediting body. We know of no homeschool students who have been able to participate in sports.
    1. In ID homeschool students have a right to dual enroll and then participate in anypublic school program including nonacademic activities. The parent determines academic eligibility according to state law.
    2. In IL, a homeschool student “may” enroll part-time to participate. The school board has the power to accept these students and the IHSA allows the district to determine whether a homeschool student can participate in interscholastic activities.
    3. MI states that to participate in extracurricular activities a student should be enrolled part-time in school. However, MHSAA eligibility rules require a student to be taking at least 66% of a full credit load in the public school to be eligible to play sports.
    4. MO might allow a student to enroll part-time in public school but hasn’t been tested in court. MSHSAA requires the student to be enrolled in at least 80% of the course load which virtually excludes homeschoolers.
    5. In NJ the NJSIAA does allow homeschoolers to participate in sports but they have to 1)reside in the district, 2) obtain approval from school board and principal, 3)demonstrate they are academically qualified and receiving an equivalent education, and 4) comply with all other requirements imposed on other members of team.
    6. CT, IN, OK and TX have no option whatsoever to participate in extracurricular activities as a homeschool student.
  3. Even though voluntary, there is concern that implementing a “right” to participate in extracurricular activities could lead to regulation of the overall homeschool community. As seen above there is really no state that allows participation without either enrolling in the public school or demonstrating that the student’s educational program is either accredited or equivalent to that of the public school program.
  4. HSLDA is generally neutral on extracurricular activities unless there is evidence that a bill would harm the homeschool community in general. At this pointin time, it is impossible to determine whether there could be any harm to the general homeschool community given the fact that no other state like Oklahoma has such a statute. What is certain is that additional regulations/polices would have to be implemented after the enactment of this bill. OCHEC is in direct opposition of any legislation that would force public schools to accept homeschoolers into their facilities. It is on record above of Rep. Cleveland stating that if this bill were passed, they (the legislators) would have to regulate homeschooling.

    ACTION: None. This is just a sample of what we might expect in 2014.

We are providing the following information for you to review and understand why OCHEC is in opposition of equal access bills. As always, OCHEC is supportive of parental choice and does not deny anyone the choice to enroll their children in or participate with the public school. However, as a state organization designed to protect the homeschool freedom we currently enjoy, we must oppose any legislation that would threaten, now or in the future, to regulate homeschooling statewide.

While HB1906 may seem to innocently blanket every child in the state not enrolled in the public schools, we all know that the main population that it would affect would be homeschool students. Oklahoma has a totally unique situation in that it currently has NO regulation on homeschool families whereas ALL the other states where this has worked have invasive regulation already in place. These types of laws (Tebow Law for example) may work well in other states, but those states already have invasive regulations on homeschools and one more regulation really doesn't mean anything to those participating. The question we need to ask is do we in Oklahoma want to open the door to any type of regulation for any reason? Once a door is opened, it cannot be closed back.

It is not the seemingly innocence of the this bill that concerns us, it is the underlying current and interpretation that will cause the problems. Nothing is ever as it seems. The problem with this bill is that it leaves too many questions unanswered. No one, even the author knows what those rules and policies (highlighted below) will be and how they will be implemented.

On October 4th, 2011, there was an Interim Study on Home School Students Involvement in Public Schools (IS-072). An OCHEC representative attended the meeting on short notice but did not participate. However, he did meet with Ed Sheakley, Executive Secretary of OSSAA, in the hallway before the meeting. They agreed that there was no middle ground to be found and that we may well find ourselves in the unusual position of both opposing a bill although for different reason. Here's a recap of the meeting.

Rep. Blackwell, two homeschool families, the Fishers of Hooker and the Arthoughts of Keys had multiple children talk about how great homeschooling is. Roger Fisher stated he would be willing to turn in a weekly pass/fail report. He reported that 22 other states allow participation (and they are all regulated where Oklahoma is not. Sited Tim Tebow and Alabama. Scott Arthought stated that other states have conquered this issue and would he be open to verification.

Rep. Blackwell opened with a commitment to work with both sides and that he would not push any legislation at the embarrassment of either side. He then introduced Ed Sheackley of the OSSAA. He stated that there needs to be a level playing field, high standard applied to both public and homeschool students. He questioned how the district could address that the homeschool student is a legal student, comply with 1080 hours of attendance, weekly grade checks, student conduct rules, residency and transfers, the age and grade rules, the need for oversight and accountability. He also questioned how it would be funded. He believes there is very little oversight in homeschooling and there would be a need to validate that oversight.

Randy Holley, Superintendent, Shaddack, questioned how to prove eligibility, brought up bad homeschoolers that would take advantage of the system, would need enforceable regulations. He believes the state needs to regulate first, then provide eligibility.

Steve Cochran, Athletic Director, Lawton, said that allowing homeschoolers would disrupt the sense of family and community of a team, there would be no school pride, questioned attendance issues, says geography - transfer issues are already a nightmare, concerned about dishonest parents and that this would be an opening to discriminate against homeschoolers.

Rep. Blackwell, regained the floor and used Alabama and Florida (again, states that already have invasive regulations) as examples of how parents contract to voluntary verification. He would be in favor of not allowing public school students that begin homeschooling to be eligible. Floated the idea that maybe only rural student be allowed.

The following were questions from the committee members: Would private schools be forced to accept homeschoolers for activities? Stated virtual students are not eligible because they must be on sight. Questioned how to define compliance. Questioned liability insurance as only available to enrolled students.

Bottom line is, if they regulate one, they will find a way to regulate all. You can see in the highlighted comments above how the public school administration and faculty feel about oversight, regulation, eligibility, and validation. They are not going to stop at a voluntary verification.

While the author of the bill can make it as benign as possible now, there are no guarantees that it won't evolve into something invasive and burdensome in years to come. We don't know what kind of eligibility rules and policies will be required, as you can read, that is up to each school district. There will be no standard policy across the state because each school district operates independently. However, if you continue reading, you will see that there will be a push from public school educators and administration for state regulation of homeschoolers before accountability can be determined. Once a school has one or two of your children in their system will it give them cause to find an excuse to pull the rest in as well? HSLDA has warned us of other states in which this very thing does happen

While we do not want to appear fearful, there is a difference in living in fear and walking in wisdom or being wise as serpents in avoiding any possible threat to our homeschool freedom.

Besides the possible regulation issues, this bill raises many more questions than it has answers. For example, when including a virtual school student, is it possible for that student to be enrolled in one school district and play sports for another? Whose eligibility rules would apply there?

What about insurance? Who is responsible for that?

If it is free, who is going to pay for it? We all know that nothing is truly free and the school doesn't get any money for my child unless I enroll him in their school district. Free always has strings attached.

If the OSSAA is forced, through this law, to allow homeschool students to participate in their sports teams, what is going to keep them from turning the tables and forcing us to allow public school students to join the Knights or any other homeschool sports team?


Last December, changes were made in the ability-to-benefit provisions of Federal Title IV financial aid. Many institutions and state departments of education throughout the nation interpreted these changes to mean that homeschool students were not eligible. Oklahoma was one of those states. After extensive communication with the financial aid departments of over 150 institutions in Oklahoma, they now understand those interpretations to be false. If you are trying to enroll your student in a vocational/tehcnical school, college, or university, please be aware of this law and the correct meaning. The following information should be helpful to you if you run into any opposition.

From the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) website:

Clarifying the ATB Eligibility of Home Schooled Students

When Congress passed the 2012 budget bill last December, it eliminated the ability-to-benefit (ATB) provisions as an alternative to the high school diploma for the purpose of establishing a student's eligibility for Title IV aid. The ATB provisions allowed students to establish academic credentials for student aid eligibility either by passing an approved test, or by earning 6 credit hours or the equivalent coursework that are applicable toward a degree or certificate offered by the institution.

This change does not affect the eligibility of home-schooled students. Home schooling was never considered a form of ability to benefit, but rather an alternative in its own right to the high school diploma or its recognized equivalent.

The law now reads: "In order for a student who does not have a certificate of graduation from a school providing secondary education, or the recognized equivalent of such certificate, to be eligible for any [Title IV] assistance..., the student shall have completed a secondary school education in a home school setting that is treated as a home school or private school under State law."

In Dear Colleague Letter GEN-12-01, the Department of Education gave its interpretation of the revised law: "Therefore, students who do not have a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent (e.g.,GED), or do not meet the home school requirements, and who first enroll in a program of study on or after July 1, 2012, will not be eligible to receive Title IV student aid."

Therefore, home schooled students should remain eligible for aid, provided that they meet their state’s home schooling requirements.

Publication Date: 3/5/2012
 
 

March 1, 2012

Does My High School Grad Need a GED
in Order to Receive Federal Student Aid for College?

William A. Estrada, Esq.
Director of Federal Relations
 

There’s an urban legend circulating around the internet. No, it’s not someone who wants your bank account info so they can send you $10 million for safekeeping. It’s a pronouncement that due to a recently enacted federal law, effective July 1, 2012, homeschool graduates will no longer be eligible for federal student aid for college unless they have a GED.

Just like every urban legend, there is some truth to it. Congress made significant changes to federal student aid eligibility in December of 2011. These changes are effective July 1, 2012. But homeschoolers now need a GED? Nothing could be further from the truth. Homeschool students were specifically exempted from the changes, meaning they can continue to receive federal student aid for college just like in the past.

Unfortunately, after some investigative work from HSLDA’s super sleuths, we have determined that numerous colleges and universities received this erroneous information from some education think tanks and organizations that provide guidance to college and university student aid offices. Without looking at the law—or even guidance from the U.S. Department of Education—certain colleges and universities simply told homeschoolers they will no longer be eligible for federal student aid unless they have a GED.

Congress made no changes to homeschool eligibility. What the law actually says is, “In order for a student … to be eligible for any [federal financial] assistance … the student shall have completed a secondary school education in a home school setting that is treated as a home school or private school under State law.” (20 U.S.C. 1091(d), as amended by Public Law 112-74).

HSLDA sent a detailed letter to the U.S. Department of Education. We explained the situation, and asked the Department to send guidance to colleges and universities. While the Department works on a response, we encourage you to send our letter (available here) to any college or university that tells you this urban legend. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has put guidance on its webpage that makes it very clear that homeschool students are still fully eligible for federal financial aid.

Homeschoolers excel in college. Congress recognizes this and intentionally made no changes to the eligibility of homeschool students for federal student aid. Please let HSLDA’s Federal Relations Department know if you come across any colleges or universities that persist in claiming that homeschool students need a GED in order to be eligible for federal financial aid. You can reach us at federalrelations@hslda.org or 540-338-5600.