A Lawsuit Threatens a Promising School Choice Law in West Virginia

Students in West Virginia have the right to opt out of their state’s public schools system under a West Virginia law. They could be forced to keep their current positions by a suit filed last week.

H.B. H.B. 13 was passed last year. It funds West Virginia’s education savings accounts (ESAs), for current students enrolled in public schools. ESA programs are similar to health savings accounts. They provide parents money from the state education budget to help with education expenses. All students in West Virginia can apply to the program for the school year 2022-2023. Students are eligible to be exempted form public school attendance, and receive a stipend equivalent to what the state currently spends on education. This is approximately $4,600. This money could be used to pay tuition fees at another school or tutoring. Parents who prefer to homeschool their children could use the money for curriculum.

Last week however, West Virginia’s three parents sued one another, the other being a teacher to block the new law. They are represented by Public Funds Public Schools (a group that advocates for public schools founded partly by the Southern Poverty Law Center). It claims that the law violates West Virginia’s constitution which ensures a “thorough system of free schools.” Further, the lawsuit claims that the law “will siphon millions of taxpayer dollars away from public school education.”

Friday saw the Institute for Justice (IJ) file a motion for intervention. IJ is a libertarian, public-interest law firm which frequently advocates school choice. IJ filed the motion to defend law in support of parents from West Virginia, who were hoping to use the program. As IJ’s filing clearly shows, IJ is wrong on the facts.

Public schools would still be able to receive funds from the Hope Scholarship, but they wouldn’t have to lose them because each allocation is made separately. The Department of Education receives funding from the state for schools according to the enrollment of the students. Under the new law, however, it would ask for an additional amount for Hope Scholarship applicants. The funding for Hope Scholarships will not be taken away from public education in any way that any other state-funded program would. It is simply listed on the state budget.

Three parents are attempting to stop this program because their children require extra individual attention. The parents are satisfied with what their local public schools provide, as there is no other school that can offer the same programs. This complaint is misunderstood about school choice. Choice. All of the children under the Hope Scholarship program could do the same thing: they could go to the same schools as before and continue to receive the same services.

On the other hand, IJ’s clients—a mother with four children and another with two—do not have the luxury of a public school which meets their children’s various needs. These parents hope that the law will help them afford additional therapies or tuition assistance at a private school.

The law will allow these mothers to have all the options they need to tailor their choices to meet the needs of their children. For the parents who are sueing, there would be no change.