CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — The fate of West Virginia’s controversial Hope Scholarship program is now in the hands of the five-member Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia. The Court heard the arguments from both sides Tuesday but no final decision has been made.
The question before the high court is whether the West Virginia Legislature violated the state constitution when it passed the Hope Scholarship Act last year. The law allows parents to get up to $4,300 per child and allows the parents to spend that money on alternative education options such as private schools or homeschooling.
Critics say it takes money from the overall public school system, while advocates say it provides choice. Parents at the hearing were sharply divided.
Katie Switzer is a parent with a 5-year old special needs child who says the Hope Scholarship would give her family flexibility with her child’s education.
“I’m hoping that it gives us the flexibility to help my daughter with her education, so that she can access speech therapy and the specialized services that she needs in the right combination and not just be forced into one model of schooling,” Switzer said.
But parent Wendy Peters, worries about the overall impact.
“If you look a the state aid formula, it’s based completely on enrollment. And if they are giving an incentive to leave the public schools, then we will lose that money in public education,” Peters argued.
The lawyers for each side differed, too.
“No one contends that the Legislature is failing to provide thorough and efficient schools as required by the Constitution. Their argument is only that the Hope Scholarship program might have some potential negative effects,” said Joshua House, an attorney supporting Hope Scholarships.
“It uses public funding for subsidizing more affluent families that have chosen private or home schooling. And it silos the poor and special needs children,” said Tamerlin Godley, an attorney against Hope Scholarships.
Earlier this year, a Kanawha County Circuit Judge ruled that the Hope Scholarships were unconstitutional, and that’s why supporters appealed to the Supreme Court. Right now, there is no time frame for when a decision will be announced.
More than 3,000 students in West Virginia qualified for Hope Scholarships this school year but because of the court fight, none of that money has been distributed.