Liz McCormick Published

Bill Creating Publicly Funded Education Savings Accounts Heads To W.Va. Senate

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 2013 narrowly on a vote of 57-42. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, voted against the bill.

The West Virginia House of Delegates has once again passed a bill that would establish education savings accounts, or ESAs, for public school students who are looking to switch to private or homeschool.

After initially passing HB 2013 in the full chamber two weeks ago, the House opted to send the Hope Scholarship Program back to committee to address some financial concerns.

The House Finance Committee amended the bill to cap publicly funded education vouchers for private and homeschooled students at $3,000 per student, per year — but that didn’t last. The full chamber voted to increase that limit back to $4,600 — exactly where it was two weeks ago.

The bill also allows that by 2026, all private and homeschooled students in the state may apply for a voucher regardless of whether they ever attended public school.

The money could be used for things like tuition at a private school, for tutoring, or for an afterschool program among others.

HB 2013 has seen vehement opposition from Democrats and educators, who say the move would be costly, unnecessary and discriminatory.

Minority Vice Chair of House Education Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he’s also concerned about the impact the program could have on small public schools.

“When our small community schools close, the community dies,” Thompson said. “We have several small schools in my district. I’m very concerned that this bill, using our public funds and taking them out of our public schools, will result in mass consolidation.”

Supporters say the program will ensure that all students get a quality education and provides flexibility for parents.

House Education Chair Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, compared the program to how the state supports health care.

“We’re responsible for the health care of our citizens. Do you think public money doesn’t go to private institutions or private practitioners in this state?” Ellington said. “What I’m saying is there’s more than one way to educate our students. This is just one small part to take that population of kids out that need a different environment to learn and excel.”

Democrats offered a handful of amendments including one that would have inserted a non-discrimination section, another that would have made the program only eligible to families making under $75,000 a year, and another that would have required an annual audit of the West Virginia Hope Scholarship Board.

All amendments offered by Democrats were rejected.

The bill passed narrowly, however, on a vote of 57-42 with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, voting against the bill.

The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.