West Virginia court to hear appeal of school voucher ruling

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s Supreme Court on Thursday scheduled arguments for this fall in the appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down a state-sponsored education voucher program.

The justices refused a request by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey to stay a Kanawha County judge’s ruling involving the Hope Scholarship program pending the appeal. A law passed last year would have funneled state money into the program that incentivized families to pull their children out of K-12 public schools.

Oral arguments in the Supreme Court are scheduled for Oct. 4.

Morrisey had filed his motion with the new state Intermediate Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case itself.

Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit ruled that the program, which would have been one of the most far-reaching school choice programs in the country, violates the state’s constitutional mandate to provide “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”

Morrisey argued that without the stay, the state and families will “suffer irreparable harm” because students would be stripped of educational opportunities for at least a year.

Passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, the law would have allowed families to apply for state funding to support private school tuition, homeschooling fees and a wide range of other expenses. More than 3,000 students had been approved to receive around $4,300 each during the program’s inaugural cycle.

Families could not receive the money if their children were already homeschooled or attending private school. To qualify, students had to have been enrolled in a West Virginia public school last year or set to begin kindergarten this upcoming school year.

In January, three parents filed a lawsuit saying the program incentivized students to withdraw from public schools and drained funds from the public education system. The suit was supported by the West Virginia Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools.

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