With the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reinstating the Hope Scholarship program, the concept of public funding for private schooling becomes a reality.
Morgantown mom Katie Switzer appealed the Hope Scholarship and won. She said her daughter, Ruth, has a rare speech disorder, best treated by a private speech therapist who does not take insurance.
“We used the early intervention program here in West Virginia called Birth to Three and it was great. But when she graduated from that program, we were able to find a speech therapist that specializes in apraxia of speech,” Switzer said. “At the time, there was only one in the state who practiced in person. Unfortunately, most speech therapists aren’t trained to treat this disorder, so we have been paying for her to go to see this private speech therapist for more than two years now.”
Switzer and her daughter love her public school kindergarten class, but she said it doesn’t meet all of Ruth’s educational needs. Switzer has hopes that Hope Scholarships can lead to new public school revenue streams.
“It opens the door to make this really flexible system,” Switzer said. “A system where the public schools can offer programs to homeschoolers or to private school kids, and they can take Hope money”
Attorney Tamerlin Godley with Public Funds, Public Schools represented parents who challenged the constitutionality of Hope Scholarships. She said in the three countries that have instituted universal vouchers, education suffers.
“In all of those countries, all of the peer reviewed research shows that there is increased segregation, by race and by socio-economics,” Godley said. “And the achievement in the public schools goes dramatically down.”
Godley said West Virginia students and public schools will also suffer from millions of dollars in diverted funding.
“These bills are put forward by people who want to dismantle public education,” Godley said. “We know the people that are behind this. Public education is the primary driver of social mobility in the United States.”
The split decision Supreme Court of Appeals court ruling came after only two days of deliberations.
Back In July, Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit halted the legislative program, ruling that the $4,300 offered to about 3,000 students for non-public school educational expenses was unconstitutional, diverting millions of dollars from an already underfunded public school system.
The order reversing the lower court ruling noted “The nature of the constitutional matters at issue and the need to resolve the appeal in an expedited manner.”
A Supreme Court of Appeals opinion will be released at a later date.
Godley said there’s a possibility the case could be remanded back to Circuit Court.
State Treasurer Riley Moore chairs the Hope Scholarship Board. He said Hope payments should be disbursed Jan. 1 for the winter semester and expects they will be paid retroactively for the fall semester.
“It might just all come in one lump sum in January. But some of that, obviously, is going to be contingent upon how quickly we can get the Department of Education and everybody to move,” Moore said. “We’re going to be pushing extremely hard. The first step in that process is to get approval from the board on my motion to file this emergency rule to authorize the payments.”
Moore said he does not see any pending negative Hope Scholarship funding effect on public education.
”We’re making these dollars for education competitive. It’s going to raise the standard and quality of education in the state of West Virginia,” Moore said. “If a student decides to leave a public school and go to a private school, a Christian school or homeschool, those dollars are going to go with that student, and the financial requirements to educate that student will no longer exist for that public school.”
Moore said a free education for West Virginia students will not go away.
In a statement, West Virginia Board of Education President Paul Hardesty said the board respects the court’s decision and will move forward without delay.
“I am confident that this legislature and this governor will continue to fund public education at adequate levels,” Hardesty said. “The state board has directed the State Superintendent and the State Department of Education to work closely with the State Treasurer to support a seamless and timely implementation of the Hope Scholarship program.”