W.Va. Education Officials Legally Oppose Hope Scholarship | News, Sports, Jobs | Wender Mind Kids

 W.Va. Education Officials Legally Oppose Hope Scholarship |  News, Sports, Jobs

CHARLESTON — The co-heads of the West Virginia Department of Education and the state Board of Education have pulled down the gauntlet against the state’s new Hope Scholarship educational savings program.

In a statement released Thursday night, the school’s state superintendent Clayton Burch and Miller Hall, president of the state board of education, announced that attorneys from both agencies have filed a response in support of a lawsuit brought by two parents in January against the Hope Scholarship had submitted.

In the June 15 filing submitted to Kanawha District Court Judge Joanna Tabit, Burch and Miller are asking the court to issue an injunction to block the Hope Scholarship program. The two accuse the program of diverting taxpayers’ money from public schools while circumventing the authority of the board of education, which they say violates the state constitution.

“The Hope Scholarship Program provides an incentive for students to exit the public school system and deprives the state of public schools of needed public funding.” said Burch and Miller. “As a result, it violates the West Virginia Constitution as it prevents the West Virginia Board of Education from providing a thorough and efficient education to all children.” It is the Board’s intention to assert this position in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County and support the parents who have taken legal action on this matter.”

Putnam County parent Travis Beaver, Upshur County parent Karen Kalar and Raleigh County teacher Wendy Peters filed lawsuits against the department and board, as well as State Treasurer Riley Moore, Senate President Craig Blair, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Roger Hanshaw, and Governor Jim Justice.

The parents are represented by the New Jersey-based Education Law Center and Charleston attorney John Tinney Jr “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”

“The people of this state made a decision in 1863 when they enshrined public education as a fundamental right in the West Virginia Constitution.” said Burch and Hall. “Thereafter, when the people of that state ratified the provision in the state constitution that entrusted the oversight of public schools to the West Virginia Board of Education, it gave the board independent responsibility to protect and defend that constitutional decision.”

Burch and Hall are represented by the Charleston-based law firm Bailey and Wyant. Attorney Kelly Morgan, filing on her behalf, said the Hope Scholarship “thorough and efficient” Need to harm public schools by defunding them.

“The (Hope Scholarship) threatens the fundamental rights of students in this state to an adequately funded public education,” Morgan wrote. “The state of West Virginia has no compelling governmental interest in using public funds to subsidize homeschooling, private schools and alternative forms of education outside the public school system.”

The Hope Scholarship gives parents the opportunity to allocate a portion of their per-student spending from the government school grant formula to educational expenses such as private school tuition, home schooling, study aids, and other acceptable expenses.

Upon implementation, any student who has been enrolled full-time in a public school for either the entire previous year or 45 calendar days is eligible to apply for the scholarship, although the students would not be able to remain enrolled full-time in public schools in order to receive the scholarship continue the scholarship.

The State Treasurer is tasked with administering the Hope Scholarship program, which begins at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. The application deadline was May 15, although the law allows the Hope Scholarship Board to accept late applications at its discretion. During a meeting of the Hope Scholarship Board on Tuesday, 190 late applications were accepted. The Ministry of Education abstained from the vote.

Legislature passed House Bill 2013 creating the Hope Scholarship last year. The bill caps the Hope Scholarship at $4,600 per student and, if implemented in 2022, could cost about $24 million per year if every eligible student applies. As of Tuesday, 3,146 Hope grant applications have been awarded with a total cost of $14.5 million.

The bill also opens the Hope Scholarship Program to eligible public, private, and homeschool students through 2026, bringing costs up to $102.9 million through fiscal year 2027.

Speakers for Senate President Blair, House Speaker Hanshaw and Treasurer Moore referred the Attorney General’s office for comment. A request for comment from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey was not answered. The attorney general’s office is representing the remaining state officials in the lawsuit. Justice addressed the controversy at his virtual briefing Friday in the State Capitol Building, saying he doesn’t mind the disagreement with state education officials.

“You have the independence to make a choice,” said justice. “We’re on different sides of the fence. The courts will decide that and everything. This is not a topic that needs more discussion than just that. We will just do what the courts decide.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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