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Two major education bills are nearing the end of their legislative journeys.
Jumpstart Savings Program
The West Virginia Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed HB 2001, which would create the West Virginia Jumpstart Savings Program.
The program would be housed in the Office of the West Virginia State Treasurer and is a tax-free savings plan, similar to SMART529, aimed at people who are pursuing careers in occupations such as welding, electrical work, plumbing and other trades or apprenticeships. Individuals interested in opening an account will be required to deposit at least $25 to start one.
“This bill simply starts a program that allows individuals and families to save money for future costs, like tools, equipment and business startup expenses in the state of West Virginia,” said Senate Education Chair Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, during Wednesday’s floor session. “I support and urge adoption.”
Since the Senate adopted a couple amendments to the bill, the House must first concur with the changes before the bill will be sent to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.
Hope Scholarship Program
The Senate Education Committee passed the much-watched Hope Scholarship bill Tuesday evening after more than two hours of questions, discussion and debate.
HB 2013 would create the Hope Scholarship Program, which establishes publicly funded education savings accounts for public school students interested in switching to private or homeschool.
No amendments were adopted during committee, although Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, attempted to place caps on eligibility based on income with exceptions for families who have children with learning or physical disabilities. He also attempted to add a non-discrimination section. All were rejected.
“I’m shocked that we could not pass [a non-discrimination provision] this year by a majority vote,” Romano said, referencing previous attempts to pass ESA legislation. “We’re going to continue to suck money out of the public school education till it falls flat on its face… Whether it be charter schools, or now ESAs, we will continue to drain the public education system.”
The legislature approved a bill last week that would permit the creation of up to 10 brick-and-mortar public charter schools by 2023, as well as virtual charter options statewide and locally. It is awaiting a signature from the governor.
The Hope Scholarship Program would give students a voucher equal to about $4,600 a year, but that could fluctuate depending on the annual state School Aid Formula. The vouchers could be used for things like tuition at a private school, for tutoring, for standardized exams, or for afterschool programs.
“I do support our public education system getting more funds, having smaller class sizes, having the ability to customize and innovate,” Rucker said in committee. “[That’s] just one of the reasons just a few days ago we supported charter school legislation out of this body. I want every option available so that there is no child that falls through the cracks that doesn’t get what they need.”
Initial rollout of the Hope Scholarship Program is expected to cost the state about $23 million in its first year, according to a fiscal note provided by the West Virginia Department of Education.
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 WVDE estimates this expansion of the program could cost the state an additional $100 million a year beginning in the 2027-2028 school year if all current homeschool and private school students received the education vouchers.
HB 2013 now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.