CHARLESTON — With two months to go until the application period opens, a lawsuit filed Wednesday could delay the rollout of West Virginia’s foray into college savings accounts.
The New Jersey-based Education Law Center filed a lawsuit in Kanawha County Circuit Court on Wednesday, seeking a judgment and injunction against the Hope Scholarship Program.
Putnam County parent Travis Beaver, Upshur County parent Karen Kalar and Raleigh County teacher Wendy Peters filed suit against state treasurer Riley Moore, the state’s superintendent of schools Clayton Burch, Chairman of the State Board of Education Miller Hall, Speaker of the Senate Craig Blair, Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw and Governor Jim Justice.
Beaver, Kalar, and Peters are represented by attorneys from the Education Law Center and Charleston attorney John Tinney Jr. They argue that the Hope Scholarship violates provisions of the West Virginia Constitution requiring the state to provide a ” comprehensive and efficient system of free schools”.
“Public education is a basic right in West Virginia,” Tinney wrote. “The founding leaders of the state enshrined the importance of public education in the state constitution from the outset. The legislature can take no action that would go beyond or frustrate this affirmative constitutional obligation.
Tinney continued, “Similarly, funding for public education is considered West Virginia’s highest constitutional priority along with the state’s obligation to service its debt. Any action that depletes public school funding is subject to rigorous scrutiny. The most demanding judicial control.
The Hope Scholarship gives parents the opportunity to use a portion of their per-student spending from the state school aid formula for educational expenses, such as private school tuition, tutoring home care, learning aids and other acceptable expenses.
Upon implementation, any student enrolled full-time in a public school for the entire previous year or for 45 calendar days is eligible to apply for the scholarship, although students cannot remain enrolled full-time in schools public to continue receiving the scholarship.
The State Treasurer is responsible for administering the Hope Scholarship Program. The application period opens on March 1, with the program starting in the 2022-2023 academic year.
The Legislative Assembly passed the 2013 House Bill creating the Hope Scholarship last year. The bill caps the Hope Scholarship at $4,600 per student and could cost around $24 million per year when implemented in 2022, if every eligible student applies.
The bill also opens the Hope Scholarship program to eligible public, private and home-schooled students by 2026, raising the cost to $102.9 million by fiscal year. 2027.
The Hope Scholarship has been hailed by national and state school choice supporters as one of the most expansive college savings account programs in the nation. In his court filing, Tinney frequently refers to the Hope Scholarship as a “voucher” program.
“HB 2013 uses public funds to pay for private education vouchers and home schooling expenses and will divert millions of public dollars from public education,” Tinney wrote. “Ultimately, the state will subsidize private schools and homeschooling at a cost of more than $100 million each year.”
Tinney also said that the Hope Scholarship Board created by HB 2013 usurps the authority of the State Board of Education and that the law does not include specific anti-discrimination provisions already covered by federal law.
Supporters of the Hope scholarship, including the education advocacy group, yes. each child. and the West Virginia chapter of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity, spoke out against the lawsuit on Wednesday.