Randy Yohe Published

Supreme Court Hears Final Hope Scholarship Appeal

hope sup ct.jpg

A final attempt to reinstate the Hope Scholarship program went before the West Virginia Supreme Court Tuesday.

Parents on both sides of the school funding issue said they want the best education for their special needs children; it’s the delivery and funding issues that vastly differ.

The appeal hearing comes after parents fighting for the Hope Scholarship filed to have the Supreme Court review Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit’s July ruling.

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 total for the 2022-23 school year would be about $13 million, much more when fully implemented.

Families could have used Hope Scholarship funds for a variety of expenses including private schooling, homeschooling, online learning and educational therapies.

A lawyer from West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office representing the state – and an attorney for two individual parents fighting for the program – said Hope Scholarship funds are separately appropriated, would not affect school budgets and would not deny the right to a free education.

Attorney Joshua House with the National Institute for Justice represents parents Katie Switzer and Jennifer Compton, who intended to use the Hope Scholarship program. He said these two programs can exist side by side.

“Even if attendance were to go down, the state still has a duty to provide thorough and efficient schools,” House said. “Separate appropriations will not trigger school budget cuts and the Hope Scholarship does not infringe on anyone’s access to public schools.”

Katie Switzer, who petitioned the Supreme Court, wants a blended plan of home and other classes tailored to her special needs child. She said public school programs don’t offer the flexibility hundreds of students need.

‘It doesn’t fit every kid and so we’re not looking to get rid of public schools,” Switzer said. “We still want to use their services. We just want the right combination, we’re not really taking away from the public schools.”

Attorneys representing the West Virginia Department of Education, the State Board of Education and two parents opposing the scholarship said Hope funds are privately paid instead of going to public education.

Lead attorney Tamerlin Godley added the Constitution does not allow the financial threat the Hope Scholarship poses to the state’s financial future.

“The Constitution protects every child regardless of the vagaries of their situation. It protects children in poverty, foster care and special needs,” Godley said. “It protects them from parents that will take the funds and either from difficult circumstances or bad motives not providing an adequate education. It protects children from fly-by-night school operators that will definitely arise.”

Travis Beaver, who co-filed the original suit, said the voucher was something the legislature snuck under the public’s eyes to keep the rich, rich and everybody else poor and uneducated.

Because $4,300 only covers my daughter’s speech, OT, the Lamb device, and ABA therapy,” Beaver said. “Putnam County schools pay for all that for my daughter and defunding will come directly out of my daughter’s problems.”

The Supreme Court has expedited the case, but no timetable is set on a ruling.