More than 3,000 West Virginia students could miss out on school choice program

(The Center Square) – More than 3,000 West Virginia students could miss out on a school choice scholarship following a court ruling that failed to pause an injunction against the program.

The state’s Intermediate Court of Appeals refused to grant the state’s motion to pause an injunction from a lower court, which forces the state to put the program on hold as the court battle continues. Since the state launched the Hope Scholarship Program, 3,146 students had already been approved. Due to the court ruling, these students will not be able to access that money.

“It’s disappointing the Intermediate Court did not see that the lower court’s injunction will undermine the fundamental freedom of parents to choose the best education for their children,” Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement. “The thousands of families who are set to receive scholarship money from the Act will now be in limbo trying to figure out what’s going to happen to their children’s education.”

The Hope Scholarship Program would set up education savings accounts, which would allow parents to use public money to send their children to private schools or support the cost of homeschooling, rather than send them to public school. The money would divert funds that would have otherwise been allocated to the public school to fund that student’s education.

Parents whose students were enrolled into the program expected to receive vouchers up to $4,600 per year.

“We are deeply saddened by the decision to keep the injunction in place,” Andrew Bambrick, the Education Outreach Coordinator for the free-market Cardinal Institute told The Center Square.

“This decision harms the 3,146 students who have already been approved for the program and were counting on that money to pursue the education that they need,” Bambrick added. “We are committed to fighting for the Hope Scholarship and helping families as this is battled in the courts.”

A group called Public Funds Public Schools is fighting the lawsuit against the state, seeking to halt it from continuing the program. Its lawyers argue that because it diverts funds away from public schools, it violates the state constitution’s Education Clause. The clause requires the legislature “provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” A lower court agreed with the argument and found that the law does not allow the state to live up to its constitutional obligations.

Morrisey plans to continue the legal battle.

“This is an important law that will benefit hard working families, and my office will continue to fight to retain this law,” the attorney general said in a statement. “We will now proceed and move to our next legal options—where we believe we should be successful.”

Gov. Jim Justice signed the legislation into law in 2021. The legislation received support from Republican leadership, but opposition from Democratic leadership.