West Virginia public schools are ranked nearly last in the nation in “student success,” in part because the school system has bottom-five scores in math and reading. But West Virginia passed its first school choice program in 2021, the Hope Scholarship, giving parents and their children a world of options. The Hope Scholarship is an “education savings account” program which gives parents who opt out of public schools a dedicated amount of money to use on their children’s education, be that private school, home school, tutoring, ACT exams, pre-college prep courses, and so on. Thousands of parents were eager to try this new option, and opted into the program.
Unfortunately for them, they won’t get to try it just yet. An anti-choice group called “Public Funds Public Schools,” a wing of the Southern Poverty Law Center—a well funded hate-mongering organization known for endangering its enemies—brought a lawsuit earlier this year claiming the Hope Scholarship violates the West Virginia constitution. The arguments are simply outrageous. The West Virginia constitution requires the state to provide a “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” Based on that, the lawsuit argues the Hope Scholarship—by giving parents more educational choice—somehow violates the states’ duty. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Hope Scholarship is funded entirely separately from public schools, students remain free to pick public schools, and public schools continue to reap the same amount per pupil as they were before. Any lack of “thorough and efficient” public schools is not from the legislature violating the state constitution in 2021, but from years of bureaucratic misdirection putting teachers unions above student success.
On Wednesday, a local court inexplicably agreed with the activist group that the Hope Scholarship is unconstitutional. This ruling is egregiously wrong. The state has already said it will appeal, and assuming the West Virginia Supreme Court has a grasp on the law, the state will succeed.
The Hope Scholarship, like other education savings accounts, are fantastic opportunities for students. Ten states, including Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee, provide these accounts, in different forms, enabling thousands of students to choose the educational tools they need. One of the greatest benefits of education savings accounts is the ability to customize a child’s education. Unlike a voucher, which enables parents to send their child to a private school of choice, the dollars in an education savings account can be directed to multiple education providers simultaneously, like tuition, educational therapies, and textbooks. The benefits from education savings accounts are beyond what we can fathom, because with flexibility will come innovation among education service providers, who will compete to affordably meet families’ needs.
Wednesday’s ruling was wrong, and obviously so. The West Virginia Constitution does not deny West Virginia families the future they deserve, and I expect a higher court will agree.