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Judge Files Injunction Halting Hope Scholarship Program

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Randy Yohe
/
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
A West Virginia group, loveyourschoolwv.org, says it will not give up the fight for Hope Scholarship funding.

This is a developing story and will be updated. 

Updated on July 6, 2022 at 1:33 P.M.

Updated on July 6, 2022 at 2:39 P.M.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit listened to arguments for just more than an hour from those in favor and those opposed to the state’s Hope Scholarship program and then made a quick and decisive ruling.

The West Virginia Legislature passed the Hope Scholarship program to provide money for students leaving the public school system. Those students could use the money for a variety of private financial costs. The state has approved more than 3,000 applications this year with students getting about $4,200 dollars each.

Plaintiffs said the so-called “voucher law” violates the state constitution by drawing needed funds from public schools. Those favoring the Hope Scholarship say the funding pays for schooling they feel best helps their children.

Tabit granted a temporary injunction, making the Hope Scholarship program null and void for now. She said the program undermines an already underfunded public school system and said disabled or specialized students can get the help they need in the public schools. She said the legislature violated its constitutional obligation by passing a statute that limits the ability to educate West Virginia public school students.

Tabit also sided with the West Virginia Department of Education’s argument that millions of dollars in Hope Scholarship funds incentivises people to leave the public schools, causing a reduction of students which will decrease funding for school teachers and all support staff.

Attorneys for those in support of the Hope Scholarship say they will appeal the ruling.

Plaintiff Wendy Peters filed the lawsuit challenging the Hope Scholarship. In the filing, the Raleigh County parent and teacher claimed the so-called “voucher law” violates the state constitution by diverting needed taxpayer funds from public to private education.

The bottom line is the enrollment numbers will decrease which means that our money will decrease in the public schools,” Peters said. “A lot of times our most vulnerable children who have special needs like my son will not get the services that they need.”

The State Department of Education and school board joined with the plaintiffs. State Board of Education president Miller Hall called the decision a win for West Virginia students

“When you start taking money from the public schools and giving it out, it makes a major difference in how you educate and anything with the facilities and things of that nature,” Hall said.

Those favoring the Hope Scholarship said the funding pays for schooling they feel best helps their children.

Jamie Buckland’s son is a 5-year-old Hope Scholarship recipient. She said the about $4200 voucher offers funding for specialized education the state can’t provide.

“We believe that West Virginia has an obligation to provide opportunity for all of the students in West Virginia, not just those that are enrolled in a specific system,” Buckland said. “We believe that the funding should go towards the children's education, not towards the public school system.”

Leah Peck is with the non-profit loveyourschoolwv.org. The organization assists families in applying for Hope Scholarship. She said the funding is not incentivising but an empowerment.

“The argument that with less funding public schools will do less, well they'll have less children to take care of, too,” Peck said. “So maybe that individual attention which is what these kids also need will be better taken care of.”

Peck called Tabit’s halting of the Hope Scholarship program a momentary delay and said there will be steps forward to reinstate this voucher law.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said his office will appeal Tabit’s ruling of preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to the challengers of the Hope Scholarship Program.

“I am disappointed with this ruling,” Morrisey said. “We will appeal because this is an important law that provides parents greater freedom to choose how they educate their children. Our kids deserve the best educational options. We will fight for our kids and the hard working families of our state to retain this law and uphold its constitutionality.”

The West Virginia Senate’s Minority Caucus applauded today’s decision issued by Judge Tabit. They affirmed the caucus’ longstanding position that the Hope Scholarship program is unconstitutional.

In released statements, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said the Hope Scholarship shows others we are a backward state.

“I stand by what I said last year: I’ve never heard of anybody moving to a state because they had great private schools,” Romano said. “They move to a state because they have great public education. Employers bring their business here because there are educated students coming out of the public school system that can then receive training and go to work for them. Nobody is going to come to West Virginia because we implement this program.”

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, said choice is fine, but not at the risk of public education.

“The Hope voucher, left unchecked and unregulated, is extreme, unconstitutional and would ultimately lead to consolidation or closure of WV public schools,” Lindsay said. “We warned the supermajority of this in 2021 and attempted to amend common sense measures. Unfortunately, they would have none of it.”

Government Reporter, ryohe@wvpublic.org, 304-634-8123

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