CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Intermediate Court of Appeals of West Virginia has denied a stay request related to the state’s education voucher program.
The court issued an order on Tuesday following the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office’s appeal against a decision on the Hope Scholarship program, an effort allowing parents to secure public funds for private education endeavors.
State lawmakers approved the program’s creation last year; the initiative allows families to create education savings accounts for children before their enrollment in kindergarten programs. The students would have to be enrolled in a public school during the year preceding the period of interest. Families could use the money for tuition, extracurricular activities and fees.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit halted the program on July 6, stating the Hope Scholarship violates the West Virginia Constitution and its article on funding public education.
The state Attorney General’s Office filed a motion for a stay on July 19. State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey argued Tabit’s decision undermined “parents’ freedom to choose how they educate their children” with fall classes set to begin the following month. According to the state Treasurer’s Office, around 3,000 children have received approval for Hope Scholarship funding.
Greenbrier Circuit Judge Jennifer Dent took Chief Judge Dan Greear’s seat following his recusal. Greear previously worked as an attorney for the state Legislature, which included serving as counsel to House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, who is named in the lawsuit. Greear previously noted he had contact with the state Attorney General’s Office in this role.
Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge Thomas Scarr joined Dent on the order. Judge Charles Lorensen supported granting a stay.
The order additionally states a refusal to consider a stay and a motion dismissing the request.
Morrisey expressed disappointment Tuesday in the Intermediate Court of Appeals’ decision.
“The thousands of families who are set to receive scholarship money from the Act will now be in limbo trying to figure out what’s going to happen to their children’s education,” he said.
Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the court’s decision shows Tabit’s ruling was the “correct one.” He added the education union’s opposition does not stem from opposition toward parents putting their children in private schools.
“This is about public tax dollars paying for that choice, and our Constitution says we are to provide a free and thorough and efficient education system, not a private education system,” he told MetroNews. “This is an incentive to take your child out of the public schools, which takes the dollars out of our public schools, which harms our schools.”
Morrisey added his office is reviewing other possible legal options. He later tweeted optimism that the state Supreme Court “will view this case differently.”
Lee said he is confident other judges will allow Tabit’s ruling to remain.
“While I’m not a lawyer, I believe that it is clear what our founding fathers meant by that,” he said, referencing the state Constitution.