Justice signs nation’s broadest education savings accounts bill

Gov. Jim Justice has signed a bill allowing families to use public money for private education costs.

Advocates of the bill have said it will allow more flexibility for families determining the best education options for students.

Jason Huffman

“We commend in the highest terms the governor’s support for this transformational policy achievement and call on him to continue to give West Virginia’s students more educational freedom,” stated Jason Huffman, director of Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia.

The Governor’s Office submitted a letter to legislators indicating the bill was among those recently signed. But the governor did not make any particular statement about its signing.

House Bill 2013 would would establish the Hope Scholarship, allowing 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. That would compound in terms of cost year after year when a new group of kindergarteners becomes eligible.

The conservative publication the Federalist concluded “West Virginia just passed the nation’s broadest school choice law.”

Programs in four other states are limited to students with special needs or individualized education programs. A fifth, Nevada, requires students to have attended public school for at least 100 days before applying. The West Virginia program would only require students to have attended 45 days.

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 cost 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.

The first-year costs, as students leave the public school system, could be considered one-time.

But education savings accounts can quickly become costly for the state when families that would otherwise send their students to private schools or home school use the program to have the state pay part of the costs.

Starting in five years, the bill could allow students who are not leaving public school become eligible. Those are students who have already been attending private school or are homeschooling.

Those students would not have been counted toward the school funding formula in the first place, but they would receive $4,600 from the state.

Huffman said he is pleased for the families who can take advantage of the resource.

“This is a tremendous day for students and families all across the Mountain State. By ensuring that every child in this state has the opportunity to access the education that is right for them, Hope Scholarships will thoughtfully provide the common-sense educational flexibility that our families deserve,” he said.

“Our state now stands as a model for the entire nation when it comes to innovation and future of K-12 education. It’s a great day to be a Mountaineer.”

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