W.Va. implements nation's 'most expansive' school choice program by helping pay for private, homeschool

Students seen in a high school classroom.
Students seen in a high school classroom. | Reuters/Stephane Mahe

School choice advocates are praising West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice for enacting the “most expansive education savings account policy” in the country after he signed a bill into law giving parents money to help pay for private or homeschool education if they opt to take their children out of public school.

Justice signed House Bill 2013 into law Saturday. The bill established the Hope Scholarship Program, which will “provide the option for a parent to better meet the individual education needs of his or her child.” Under the Hope Scholarship Program, which will go into effect on July 1, 2022, eligible recipients can receive funding that is “equal to 100 percent of the prior year’s statewide average net share aid allotted per pupil based on net enrollment adjusted for state purposes.”

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, House Bill 2013 will enable “families who withdraw their children from public schools” to “receive a currently-estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year (scholarship) for private- and home-schooling expenses.” The publication reported that “Parents could use the vouchers for a nearly unlimited list of educational expenses, including online education programs, tutoring, books and private schooling, whether religious or secular.”

The Hope Scholarship is available to all students who were “enrolled full-time and attending a public elementary or secondary school program in this state for at least 45 calendar days during an instructional term at the time of application and until an award letter is issued by the board” or are eligible to be enrolled in a kindergarten program in the state. The funds for a Hope Scholarship must be “placed in a personal education savings account to be used for qualifying education expenses on behalf of the eligible recipient.”

EdChoice, a national school choice advocacy group, described House Bill 2013 as “the most expansive education savings account policy” in the United States. “This is an incredible accomplishment for the families of West Virginia, who will now have access to educational options they might never have been able to access before,” said Robert Enlow, the CEO and President of EdChoice. 

“As we reflect on how drastically K-12 education has changed during the pandemic, we look forward to education savings accounts as a way to empower families with the kinds of choices they need moving forward,” he continued. House Bill 2013 also received praise from Garrett Ballengee, president of the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, a conservative think-tank.

“With this program becoming law, West Virginia is a national leader in its approach to K-12 education by placing front-and-center what’s most important: children,” he said. “The Hope Scholarship will open up great opportunities to generations of West Virginians who, prior to the Hope Scholarship becoming law, would not have been able to access an education best suited to his or her learning needs.”

As of right now, students currently attending non-public schools are not eligible for Hope Scholarship funds. However, if by July 1, 2024, the number of Hope Scholarship students is equal to less than 5% of public school enrollment, the Hope Scholarship Program will become available to all West Virginia students beginning on July 1, 2026. 

The passage of House Bill 2013 comes as many public school students in the U.S. have not attended in-person classes in more than a year as a result of the widespread shutdowns implemented because of the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, the enactment of the legislation comes at a time when some public schools have faced criticism for the enactment of controversial sex education programs as well as the adoption of “anti-Christian” philosophies and the embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement.

While school choice advocates cheered the new legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the West Virginia House of Delegates, urging the state’s lower chamber to reject it. The group contended that the legislation “discriminates against students” because “schools that discriminate” on the basis of “sex, gender identity, disability, and religion —would be eligible to receive funding through the state via the Hope Scholarship accounts.” 

Although a significant number of Republicans and all Democrats opposed the bill, it managed to pass due to substantial Republican supermajorities in both chambers. The House of Delegates passed House Bill 2013 by a margin of 57-42 on March 4 and the West Virginia Senate passed it by a margin of 20-13 two weeks later.

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