A West Virginia legal organization has given notice of its intent to sue over new laws expanding charter school possibilities and the Hope Scholarship program to pay for educational costs of students leaving the public school system.
Mountain State Justice sent notice in the past week that it intends to sue over the new laws in the next 30 days. The organization sent the official notice to Gov. Jim Justice’s administration, leaders in the Senate and House of Delegates, the Attorney General’s Office and to the state Treasurer, whose office oversees the scholarship program.
“Our office has received the letter. We are reviewing the letter with every intent to defend the validity of both laws as necessary,” stated Curtis Johnson, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office.
The Governor’s Office indicated it has no comment on the lawsuit right now.
The lawsuit was first reported in the Ogden Newspapers.
The Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, which supported both school choice options in the legislative process, expressed disappointment in the lawsuit.
“It’s a shame to see an organization trying to take away much needed educational options and resources from the children and families of West Virginia,” said Amanda Kieffer, communications director for the Cardinal Institute.
The brief letter from Mountain State Justice indicates the new law expanding charter schools possibilities, House Bill 2012, will be challenged on grounds that it violates the West Virginia Constitution‘s section that says “no independent free school district or organization shall hereafter be created except for the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of voters voting on the question.”
Among the changes to West Virginia’s charter schools law is a new pathway to approval, adding a West Virginia Professional Charter School Board as an authorizer. Previously, authorization went only through county boards. The first applicant was rejected last year by the Monongalia and Preston county boards.
The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board met to organize for the first time this week.
Mountain State Justice indicates it will challenge the Hope Scholarship, House Bill 2013, on the West Virginia Constitution‘s section restricting some kinds of laws the Legislature can pass. In this case, the organization contends the law “excludes antidiscrimination protections otherwise protected under state laws.”
Moreover, Mountain State Justice contends the Legislature is in breach of its constitutional obligations “by failing to scrutinize the adequacy of the school aid formula, particularly given the financial impact” of the two laws.
The Hope Scholarship would allow students leaving the public school system to use $4,600 — based on the most recent school funding formula numbers — for a variety of education costs.
The bill also allows students old enough to enter the school system for the first time to be eligible immediately.
The program is supposed to be operational no later than July 1, 2022.
State estimates suggest the overall cost could be $23,667,486 when the program begins.
The program allows individual families to use money from the state education system for expenses such as services provided by public schools, such as for individual classes or extracurricular activities; tuition and fees at participating schools; tutoring (except not by a member of the student’s family); fees for national standardized tests; fees for after-school or summer programs; educational services and therapies and more.
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.
Mountain State Justice indicated it will pursue all relief available, including the possibility of declaring the two laws unconstitutional.
“We reserve the right to augment and modify these claims for relief prior to commencing suit,” wrote Bren Pomponio, litigation director for Mountain State Justice.