The West Virginia Supreme Court overturned a circuit court’s decision to block a school choice program.
The West Virginia Supreme Court reversed a previous circuit court injunction on the Hope Scholarship Program, opening the door for families across the state to access flexible educational opportunities.
Back in July, Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit shot down the scholarship program offering public money for private education, calling it unconstitutional.
After a hearing that lasted a little over an hour, Tabit in July ruled that the Hope Scholarship Program that provides state funds for students leaving the public school system violated the state Constitution. The scholarship program was established after the state legislature passed a law in 2021.
The plaintiff, who consisted of parents of students in the public school system, argued that the program violated the state Constitution by diverting funding away from the public education system.
Tabit found that the Hope Scholarship violated the state Constitution’s Article XII, Section 1 duty to provide “for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”
However, the West Virginia Supreme Court held that the program is indeed constitutional.
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey praised the state Supreme Court of Appeals’ decision Thursday, per a press release from Morrissey’s office. Making the decision only two days after the Attorney General’s Office presented oral argument, the Supreme Court issued an expedited order Thursday afternoon “given the nature of the constitutional matters at issue and the need to resolve the appeal in an expedited manner.”
“Today’s order is a tremendous victory for the hard-working families across West Virginia who deserve increased options for their children’s individual educational needs,” Attorney General Morrisey said.
“It has always been my goal to help make our State first in the nation when it comes to educational opportunities for West Virginia’s kids. Today’s win will make an incredible difference for thousands of families across the State—the Hope Scholarship Act opens more doors for West Virginia students while leaving public schools with the funding and other resources they need to remain strong. I’m proud of our office’s work to defend this important program and the rule of law.”
Therefore, the program can provide money to students leaving the public school system for either charter, private, religious, or home-schooling. The justice’s reasoning is not available, but they said “a detailed opinion” will follow the decision, according to court records.
Reacting to the news, senior fellow at the American Federation for Children Corey DeAngelis told Fox News Digital that “parents are winning and opponents of educational freedom just failed to block school choice in Arizona last week.”
“Now they failed to trap kids in failing government schools in West Virginia. These are massive victories for students, as these programs are the two most expansive education savings account initiatives in the nation. West Virginia parents won the war enemies of educational freedom waged on their children. Now families will finally be free to take their children’s education dollars to the education providers of their choosing. Hopefully, more states will follow West Virginia’s lead and empower families to choose the school that best meets their children’s needs and aligns with their values.”
Benefactors of the scholarship program receive up to $4,300 per year to leave the public school system. The funds could be used for a variety of reasons, such as private school tuition and fees, online education, education therapies, tutoring, etc. Established in 2021, more than 3,000 students were awarded the scholarship for 2022-23.
School choice became a salient issue after the COVID-19-induced lockdowns sparked a conversation on the scope of the government’s authority and the type of content that should be taught to children from public school curricula.
Private schools across the country reported an uptick in enrollment over the past two years, while public school enrollment declined on a national scale. Between fall 2019 and fall 2020, total public school enrollment dropped 3% nationwide, erasing a decade of steady growth, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Meanwhile, total enrollment in independent private schools saw a net growth of 1.7% between 2020 and 2022, NPR reported in December.
Private school choice, or providing all families with alternatives to the public schools they’re zoned for, can be expanded through multiple avenues at the state level, including school voucher programs, tax-credit scholarship programs, individual tuition tax credit programs and deductions, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Charter schools, magnet schools, and homeschooling are also forms of school choice programs.