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No 'Hope:' West Virginia School Voucher Program Ruled Unconstitutional

3,000 students now left in limbo

A judge has blocked a West Virginia school voucher program that would have given families $4,300 per student if they wished to homeschool their children or send them to a private school.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit listened to arguments for only an hour on Wednesday before giving her opinion that the Hope Scholarship program would violate West Virginia’s constitution. The West Virginia legislature passed the bill in 2021 and families were expecting to use the money in the upcoming school year.

More than 3,000 students — roughly 1.2% of the state’s student population — had already been accepted into the program at the time of Judge Tabit’s ruling, but now their future educational prospects are a bit more uncertain. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has stated that his office will appeal the decision and that he is confident the decision will be reversed.

“My Office will appeal today’s legally incorrect decision enjoining WV’s Hope Scholarship law. Our kids and hard-working families of our state deserve the best educational options,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “We’re very hopeful that this decision— like others which failed in Circuit Court— will be reversed.”

Critics of the program contended that the reallocation of government funds will weaken the state’s public education programs and force school districts to make tough choices about cutting programs or consolidating. Article XII of West Virginia’s state constitution mandates that the state provide a free and quality education for all students and to invest and set aside tax revenue for this effort in the state’s school fund. The voucher program, however, would not draw from this fund. Instead, it would disburse payments to participating families from the state’s general fund.

Plaintiffs say that where the money comes from is irrelevant — any incentive for students to leave the public education system will decrease the number of kids enrolled and result in smaller allocations from grants.

Families who received vouchers would be given wide leeway to use the money so long as it was pursuant to their child’s education. A number of parents have indicated that their school system doesn’t have adequate resources to meet the needs of children in special education programs, but that without the Hope Scholarship private options were too cost-prohibitive.

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