More than 1,800 students have been ruled eligible already for the new Hope Scholarship program to pay for educational costs of students leaving the public school system.
By the end of this past Friday, 1,830 students were approved for the program, said Amy Willard, West Virginia’s deputy treasurer for savings programs. The application period began March 1.
“Just a kudos point here,” said state Treasurer Riley Moore, speaking at a Hope Scholarship board meeting Monday. “The statute required us to approve an application within 45 days, and Amy and her team have worked through thousands of these already since we’ve gotten off the ground, which I think has been a monumental lift on her part.
“So obviously there’s a very clear appetite for the program out there.”
The Legislature passed and the governor then signed a bill establishing the Hope Scholarships in 2021, providing money for students leaving the public school system to use for a variety of financial costs. West Virginia’s program also allows students old enough to enter the school system for the first time to be eligible immediately.
The Hope Scholarship amount will vary annually depending on the amount of state aid funding per pupil provided to county boards of education for public school students. The scholarship amount for the 2022-23 year will be $4,298.60.
So the overall cost so far amounts to $7,865,340. Initial state estimates suggested the overall cost could be $23,667,486 during this year’s startup. The amount will increase from its current level as more applicants are processed.
The conservative publication the Federalist concluded “West Virginia just passed the nation’s broadest school choice law.” That’s because eligibility in other states with similar programs is more narrowly defined.
The scholarship program is being challenged by a lawsuit, contending it violates the state Constitution by pulling money from the West Virginia’s public education system. The Hope Scholarship board briefly broke into a private session Monday about the status of that lawsuit.
The Hope Scholarship 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 bill established an oversight board that includes the Treasurer as the chairman and presiding officer. The board is supposed to implement the program and determine whether expenditures qualify.
The board is also tasked with maintaining a list of participating schools, providing parents with a list of ways the scholarship money may be used and outlining responsibilities for parents of recipients. The board also may propose additional legislative rules, including ways to establish a fraud reporting system.
That board gathered Monday afternoon for one of its regular meetings, going over the latest steps for the scholarship program.
One of the board members, Jill Upson, asked more specifically about how many applicants have been ruled ineligible. Upson is the director of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs. “Do you have the numbers on pending and denials?” Upson asked.
So far, Willard responded, 96 student applicants have been ruled ineligible for the program. Twelve applicants were approved but declined. Willard cited the possibility of confusion, saying “Some folks thought they could stay enrolled in public school full time, which they cannot under the program.”
A couple were eligible but hadn’t been fully awarded yet. They were expected to receive full awards soon.
There were 11 still actively in review status when the numbers were provided on Friday.
There are 134 applications on hold, for possible reasons such as issues with an ID number, an address or a birth date that doesn’t match properly.
And 91 applications have been submitted but not yet reviewed.
Hope Scholarship’s managers earlier this year agreed to a contract with a program manager, Step Up for Students, which has handled similar programs in Florida.
And Adam Shuemake of Oak Hill has been hired as director of the Hope Scholarship program, starting work Feb. 28. He worked in the Fayette County public school system and then helped found Mt. Hope Christian Academy, where he served as principal and helped the school become fully accredited.
“He started just in time to help us launch the student application module for the Hope Scholarship program on March 1,” Willard said.