Education in West Virginia finds new hope

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OWest Virginia families won in court Thursday when the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals gave the green light to the new Hope Scholarship.

It’s an incredible story. As of early 2019, West Virginia did not have school choice programs. When the legislature considered a limited school choice bill, teachers’ unions went on strike to block it. Later that summer, lawmakers approved open enrollment and only three charter schools. Then came 2021. West Virginia’s Hope Scholarship savings account program, open to nearly all students in the state, was the crown jewel. The Hope Scholarship would allow families to use public education funding for a variety of eligible expenses, including tuition, tutoring, educational services, and therapy.

WEST VIRGINIA SUPREME COURT WIN BIG VICTORY FOR SCHOOL CHOICE

Parents like Katie Switzer have started making plans to personalize their children’s education using Hope. Her daughter has a speech delay, so Switzer planned to use a Hope scholarship to choose an educational approach that would best meet her unique needs. But opponents derailed the scheme by filing a lawsuit against it in January 2022 – less than two months before the application window opened. The Institute for Justice stepped in to defend the program, representing Switzer and another mother, Jennifer Compton.

As the case made its way through the courts, the state began accepting applications on March 1 and received more than 3,000 by the May 16 deadline. Those claims fell into limbo when a circuit court judge declared the program unconstitutional in July.

In August, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals agreed to expedite the appeal. Thursday
decision
to overturn the lower court’s decision and allow the Hope Scholarship program to continue has been a huge relief to the thousands of parents seeking new educational options for their children.

“Today’s actions by the court are life changing for my daughter and her peers across the state,” Switzer remarked. “It opens the door to a tailored, adaptable and welcoming education for every child, regardless of zip code, household income, disability or minority status.”

As parents navigate this exciting new educational landscape, they don’t have to go it alone. Earlier this year, parent Jamie Buckland launched
West Virginia Families United for Education
offer advice and support to parents. “We’re here to make sure families have quality options, know about them, and have a guide to help them access them,” she explained. “Hope Scholarship will be key to transforming K12 education in the Mountain State.”

The tide has turned and parents are not returning to the days when the district school was their only option. Although there will certainly be obstacles along the way, it is clear that the choice of education is the future.

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Colleen Hroncich is a policy analyst at the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.

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