The House of Delegates has again passed a bill allowing families to use public money for private education costs.
“For a student in the public school system that just doesn’t seem to be working out for them, this gives them the chance to try something else,” said House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer.
The bill passed 57-42 today. The bill now goes to the Senate, where the Republican majority has strongly supported similar bills in years past.
The “Hope Scholarship” would be established through funds from the state Department of Education to pay for expenses like tuition, tutoring, fees for standardized tests or educational therapies.
The big question is how much the program would cost in the long run.
“We’re defunding our public school system, and this is the first shot at that effort,” said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
House Bill 2013 would allow students leaving the public school system to use $4,600 for costs associated with private school or homeschooling. The bill also allows students old enough to enter the school system for the first time to be eligible immediately.
State estimates suggest that might cost $23,667,486 when the program begins in 2022.
But the bill could open up to all West Virginia students already outside the public education system by 2027. State estimates show that could result in a shift of $102,890,453.
The actual cost would depend on factors including how many students are enrolled by then, number of applicants, and the amount of state aid per pupil at the time of implementation and eligibility expansion.
“Please think about the cost of this program,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha.
Delegate Jim Barach, D-Kanawha, worried about how much money will transfer out of public school systems.
“When you take away money from the public school system and you take kids out of the school system, you end up with a two-tiered school system and that’s not what we need,” Barach said.
Delegate Cody Thompson, a public school teacher, said schools will still have expenses even if some students have incentives to leave.
“We’ve still got to keep the lights on, we’ve got to pay the water bills, we’ve got to pay staff. And we’re removing funding,” said Thompson, D-Randolph.
The House first passed this bill 60-39 on Feb. 18. But questions about the cost prompted delegates to pull back the bill the next day. It was assigned to the Finance Committee, where delegates initially capped the student aid at $3,000.
But another amendment adopted on the floor today bumped that back up to the original $4,600.
“Threw it back in Finance and then we came out here and did something totally different,” said Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell.
Americans For Prosperity-West Virginia, a libertarian-leaning organization, had earlier today encouraged the House to pass the bill.
“Now is not the time to waiver on expanding educational opportunities that would unleash our kid’s full potential,” stated Jason Huffman, the organization’s executive director.
“Sixty members of the house voted for this commonsense legislation earlier this session. Supporters of this reform from across the state—thousands of whom have taken the time to contact their lawmakers to voice their encouragement—are optimistic that these same lawmakers will stand by their commitment to providing families the educational flexibility they deserve.”