West Virginia’s superintendent and state school board have come out against the new Hope Scholarship, saying it goes against the state Constitution by diverting funding away from the public schools system.
The state’s top public schools officials came out against the Hope Scholarship in a statement Thursday night and through a filing in a lawsuit challenging the scholarship.
“The Hope Scholarship Program incentivizes students to exit the public school system and drains needed public funds from the state’s public schools,” the board officials said in a statement distributed Thursday night.
“As a result, it violates the West Virginia Constitution as it prevents the West Virginia Board of Education from providing a thorough and efficient education for all children. It is the Board’s intent to assert that position in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County and to support the parents who have initiated legal action in this matter.”
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 scholarship program is being challenged by a lawsuit, Beaver vs. Moore, contending it violates the state Constitution by pulling money from the West Virginia’s public education system. The Moore refers to state Treasurer Riley Moore whose office oversees the scholarship program.
In addition to the scholarship program itself, the filing challenges the administration of the scholarship by the separate board headed up by Treasurer Moore: “The voucher law unlawfully creates a separate board which oversees and supervises the public’s funds that are to be used for educational purposes.”
Among those named as defendants in the lawsuit were Superintendent Clayton Burch and school board President Miller Hall. A recent filing on their behalf expressed support for a preliminary injunction sought by those who brought the lawsuit, saying the officials “adamantly oppose recently-enacted legislation establishing the Hope Scholarship program.”
Members of the state Board of Education are appointed by the governor to rotating terms. Most members of the current board were appointed by Gov. Jim Justice, who has been in office for more than five years.
“The people of this State made a choice in 1863 when they enshrined public education as a fundamental right in West Virginia’s constitution,” the school officials said in the Thursday night statement.
“Thereafter, when the people of this State ratified the provision in the State’s constitution that entrusts the supervision of the public schools to the West Virginia Board of Education, they gave the Board the independent responsibility to protect and defend that constitutional choice.”
More than 3,000 students have had applications approved for Hope Scholarships so far.
The state’s official student population in public schools was totaled at 252,910 in late 2021. So, roughly, the number of students opting out through Hope Scholarships so far comes out to a little more than 1 percent.
The scholarship amount varies each school year. For the 2022-23 year, it will be $4,298.60.
The Hope Scholarship allows individual families to use money from the state education system for expenses 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.” That’s because eligibility in other states with similar programs is more narrowly defined.
State school board member Debra Sullivan questioned aspects of the Hope Scholarship program during the board’s most recent meeting.
“That’s what Hope Scholarship is. It’s state money being used to fund students to be home schooled or attend private schools. Will this change the accountability, the transparency for these students?” she asked. “I’m just not aware of what the accountability measures are for students who are receiving these because it just seems like it shifts the dynamics.”
She continued by asking, “What are taxpayers getting for their money? You know, they’re giving $4,300 on one hand; what are they going to see as a product?”
Adam Kissel, a senior fellow with the Cardinal Institute, which has pushed school choice initiatives in West Virginia, posted a statement referring to education savings accounts like the Hope Scholarship.
“West Virginia’s ESAs have made us the national leader in education freedom. But the WVDE and State Board are content with business as usual: #47 out of 50 or worse,” he wrote on Twitter.
The state Attorney General’s Office, which typically represents state government in the court system, will do so to defend the Hope Scholarship law, according to a statement provided to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which first broke the story.
“The Attorney General will ensure that we mount a vigorous defense of this important law,” stated John Mangalonzo, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office. “That is the job of our office.”