Posted on Jul 15 2009 in Legislative by Yvonne Bunn
Additional college financial aid is now available for students who have been home educated. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) recently changed its policy regarding the eligibility of homeschoolers to apply for the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP).
Although homeschool graduates who are accepted to Virginia colleges have been able to qualify for federal financial aid and some state funds, they have been locked out of money from the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program (VGAP). VGAP covers tuition, fees, and the cost of books for qualified students. The average yearly award in ’07-’08 was $3,671 for a community college student and $3,848 for a four-year college student.
Why were homeschoolers eliminated from this merit and need based scholarship? Students were required to be graduates of a Virginia public or private high school. Students were also required to have at least a 2.5 GPA. The VGAP scholarship eligibility guidelines clearly stated, “Students who obtain a GED or complete homeschooling are not eligible.” Due to the successful passage of a new law, this policy has changed.
Last year, a homeschool graduate was awarded a VGAP scholarship during her first semester of college. However, after receiving the funds her second semester, the college removed the grant stating she did not qualify for the financial aid because she had been homeschooled. Dissatisfied with the discriminatory treatment of his daughter, the student’s father contacted his state representative, Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax). Since the deadline for filing a normal bill had passed, Senator Cuccinelli, a homeschool dad himself, acted immediately by filing an emergency bill, SB 1547. The motion was granted, a simple bill was drafted, and it quickly passed the Senate Education Committee without opposition.
After reviewing the bill’s wording, HEAV contacted Senator Cuccinelli’s office by phone and sent our lobbyist, Oscar Walker, to express our concerns about wording that would create more oversight for homeschoolers. We were also concerned the language did not clearly address how homeschool graduates (including religiously exempt students) would meet the eligibility requirements for VGAP, particularly grade point average or class rank.
HEAV, VaHomeschoolers, and HSLDA suggested new language that addressed our concerns. We came to a consensus with helpful input from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The new language required SCHEV to develop “empirical alternative equivalent measures” for homeschool eligibility for state financial aid programs. Senator Cuccinelli wanted the strongest language possible to protect the rights of homeschoolers and strengthen scholarship opportunities for one income homeschooling families.
Homeschool graduates may now apply for the VGAP through the financial aid office of the community college or four year college at which they have been accepted. New SCHEV guidelines (passed July 14, 2009) now allow homeschool graduates to submit SAT scores of 900 and above and ACT scores of 19 and above as an alternative to a high school GPA. If the financial aid officer is not aware of SCHEV’s new policy regarding VGAP, respectfully ask him to contact Lee Andes, Assistant Director for Financial Aid, at SCHEV for clarification.
Although the majority of VGAP scholarship monies have already been distributed to college students for the fall ’09 semester, this law change and new SCHEV policy will help thousands of homeschool graduates in the future who plan to attend college.
Many thanks to Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) and Lee Andes, SCHEV Assistant Director for Financial Aid, for working with HEAV, VaHomeschoolers, and HSLDA in passing a new law and establishing an effective policy for home educated students.