Randy Yohe Published

W.Va. Supreme Court Takes Up Hope Scholarship Appeal Tuesday

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On Tuesday, West Virginia’s Supreme Court will hear arguments on the appeal to lift the permanent injunction on the Hope Scholarship program.

WVPB previews a case that has left about three thousand families in an educational limbo.

In July, 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.

Hope scholarships would have given about $4300 per student to pursue non-public school education.

Attorney Joshua House represents two families who were counting on the Hope money. He said the funding comes from accounts not earmarked for public education.

“This money just goes into an account that you can spend on anything,’ House said. “It’s not coming at the expense of public schools. The whole program is about providing options.”

Tamerlin Godley is the lead attorney for the many groups, including the State Board of Education and State Department of Education, opposing what they call a voucher program. She said West Virginia’s constitution clearly states the children of West Virginia will be educated using public funds, nothing about funding private education – no matter from which state account.

“This is using public money to pay for private school expenditures. You can’t do it,” Godley said. “It’s the same thing as if we tried to set up tuition schools. We will give you $4,300 in an account, and then you can go pay for whatever you want for private school expenditures. It’s a voucher.”

House argued that families can use Hope Scholarship funds to supplement private education – by paying to get public school ‘extras.’

“You can pay for some offered courses from a public school, maybe a public school that you’re not in the district for,” House said. “You can homeschool and purchase curriculum from either public schools or from private schools or online providers.”

Godley said the state is obligated to offer students a core education, plus special needs – for free – not pay money out, then take it back for something partial.

“It’s not like oh, this is money where you can go to the public school and then pay for extras,” Godley said. “You can either go to the public school or get $4,300. When that $4,300 runs out, sorry, oops, you didn’t get your full education.“

Godley said many private schools have a religious base that would exclude LGTBQ+ students.

“Many of the schools have creeds and different policies by which students have to agree to certain things. And many, in fact, most of those schools would not accept a student that was openly gay,” Godley said. “Private schools have less resources and provide less services for special needs students, it’s commonly understood.”

House said public schools do not provide some special needs options Hope Scholarship money could pay for.

“The statute actually includes things like occupational therapy, things like speech therapies, or other types of therapies,” House said. “It’s simply not the case that these accounts are going to be used to funnel money to schools that somehow fall short.”

Supreme Court of Appeals judges will listen to both sides’ arguments, deliberate among themselves, and issue a ruling. The case has been expedited, but there’s no timetable on when that ruling might come.