(The Center Square) – As the fight over the Hope Scholarship Program continues in the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey delivered arguments Tuesday in defense of the school choice program’s legality.
During the arguments, Morrisey asked the Supreme Court to dissolve a permanent injunction imposed by the Kanawha County Circuit Court. The injunction prevents the state from providing the scholarship benefits to the 3,146 children who were already enrolled in the program before the order. The lower court issued the injunction because it ruled the program violated the state constitution and that ruling was upheld by an appellate court.
“We have a very strong case and the argument is very clear: the decision of a Kanawha Circuit Court judge is flawed in many ways and only renders harm to the thousands of families set to receive funds from the Act,” Morrisey said in a statement. “I strongly support the right of parents to choose the best education possible for their children and will fight to prove the Act provides constitutionally for that right.”
The scholarship program sets up education savings accounts, which lets parents use taxpayer funds to offset costs associated with homeschooling or private education. The program is funded by diverting money that would have otherwise been used for that child’s public school education. Parents could access up to $4,600 every year through this scholarship.
A group called Public Funds Public Education sued the state on behalf of a few parents who argued that the program prevents the state from adequately funding public education because money is diverted away from those schools. According to the state constitution, the legislature must provide a thorough and efficient system of free schools.
“The voucher law violates the clear mandates of the West Virginia Constitution, which are essential to ensure all students have access to a quality public education,” cofounder of Public Funds Public Schools and the lead lawyer against the program Tamerlin Godley said in a statement Tuesday. “Courts across the country continue to recognize that voucher laws that violate their state constitutions must be struck down.”
However, Morrisey argued the state is still adequately funding public schools, but also giving more choices to parents.
“The state is providing a thorough and efficient system of free schools for West Virginia’s children, and has discretion to supplement that system through the Hope Scholarship Act,” Morrisey said in a brief filed to the Supreme Court.
Morrisey’s argument also noted the program does not take any money from the School Fund or redirect funding from appropriations that is reserved specially for public education in West Virginia.
Several organizations filed amicus briefs with the court in support of the school choice program. This includes EdChoice, the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia, the Catholic Education Partners Foundation and the West Virginia Christian Education Association.