Last week, Kanawha County Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit determined the state program that offers state funding for private education violates several constitutional provisions. She ordered an injunction.
Tabit’s ruling made the Hope Scholarship program null and void. She said the program undermines an already underfunded public school system. She said the legislature violated its constitutional obligation by passing a statute diverting millions of taxpayer dollars and incentivising people to leave the public schools, causing a reduction of students which will decrease funding for school teachers and all support staff.
Joseph Gay, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, represents two of the 3,000 or so students already awarded Hope Scholarships. He said an appeal has merit since Hope Scholarship funds come from a different appropriation process than the public school budget.
“It’s not taking any money at all from West Virginia Public Schools,” Gay said. “In fact, choice programs can and do work hand in hand with public schools because for the first time public schools actually have to compete for students. Now they have an incentive to actually improve the education that they’re providing to the students who remain in public schools.”
Gay said he will push for a stay on Tabit’s injunction while a court hears the appeal. He said the program needs to continue for at least the fast approaching school year because families have organized their lives around the nearly $4,300 promised in educational funding.
“They’ve enrolled in schools, they’ve chosen curriculum, some people have made financial decisions and job decisions based on the existence of these funds,” Gay said. “They basically had the rug pulled out from underneath them at the last moment, really about five or six weeks before the academic year begins.”
Gay is not sure yet who will hear the appeal, the West Virginia Supreme Court – or the new Intermediate Court of Appeals.
He said his legal team will cooperate with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who is also appealing the ruling.