MCA sees an influx of students from the Hope Scholarship Program | New

PRINCETON — With the Hope Scholarship Program back in business after the state Supreme Court of Appeals ruling last week, Mercer Christian Academy (MCA) hopes private school applicants who have been approved for the scholarship will soon see the money.

“We had 53 new applications (after students were approved for the scholarship earlier this year),” said Sarah Watson, secretary of the K4-12 private school based in Princeton.

The scholarship program, passed by the West Virginia Legislature last year, announced in May that more than 3,000 students statewide had been approved to receive $4,300 this year to be used by parents for a private school, some homeschooling or a service provider.

But the program was temporarily halted by a Kanawha County Circuit Court judge in July.

Judge Joanna Tabit granted an injunction against the implementation of the Hope Scholarship Act because, she said, it violated the state Constitution, which requires the state to provide “a comprehensive and effective system of free schools”.

Tabit agreed with the West Virginia Department of Education that the millions of dollars for the program drains money from public schools and incentivizes parents to pull their children out of public schools.

The program will cost $13 million this year and is expected to increase each year.

However, the state Supreme Court of Appeals last week overturned Tabit’s decision, reversing the injunction.

But Watson said it was unclear when the money will be available to parents who have applied and been approved for the scholarship.

“We just have to wait for them to know when it will come into effect,” she said, adding that “some parents have still registered their children”.

State Treasurer Riley Moore, who is chairman of the Hope Scholarship Board, said last week that the board “will meet as soon as possible to resolve various implementation issues to resume full operations of the program.”

“It is important to understand that Hope Scholarship families will not be able to immediately access program funds and likely will not be able to use Hope Scholarship accounts until the spring semester of the current school year,” he said. said in a statement. Court decision. “This delay is beyond the control of the Hope Scholarship Board and the Office of the Treasurer. Unfortunately, the July injunction prevented all state agencies from working or transferring funds for the Hope Scholarship Program. Rest assured that the Hope Scholarship Board is working as quickly as possible to make program funds available to Hope Scholarship students and to resume the enrollment process for educational service providers.

Jamie Buckland, founder and CEO of West Virginia Families United for Education (WVFUE), which lobbied for the Hope Scholarship Program, said Moore told him on Monday the money was coming in and he expected that be available in early 2023.

Buckland, who has been homeschooling for 15 years and will continue to do so for another 12, said “traditional” homeschoolers are not eligible for the scholarship due to different requirements.

In the traditional model, for example, a progress assessment must be submitted to the state in grades three, eight, and eleven, but the Hope Scholarship Program requires that they be assessed annually.

She said it’s also not a ‘voucher’ system, which is more restrictive on how and where the money is spent.

With the bursary, families can “ungroup” and have leeway on what works best for their child.

“They can choose the best math program that suits their child,” she said as an example, rather than being tied to a particular hardware vendor as a voucher system requires.

Buckland said it was about providing the best educational options for children.

“We fund children, not systems,” she said. “The funding should be used to educate the child. We don’t want to keep a child captive in a public school who could be better served in a different learning environment. The Hope Scholarship lets parents decide.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s office briefed the Supreme Court ahead of its decision, saying the law “did not purport to affect public schools in our state.” and he “did not take a penny from the school fund or take anything from the appropriations set aside for public education”.

“The state provides a comprehensive and efficient system of free schools for the children of West Virginia and has the discretion to supplement this system through the Hope Scholarship Act,” according to the memoir. state filed in the case.

“Our children deserve the best educational options – we will fight for our children and the hard working families of our state to keep this law and uphold its constitutionality,” Morrisey said.

However, former state board of education chairman Miller Hall said after Tabit’s decision that when the state starts taking “money from public schools and giving it away, it makes a major difference in how you educate and all about facilities and things of that nature. .”

“It’s public taxpayers’ money for this choice, and our Constitution says we must provide a free, comprehensive, and efficient education system, not a private education system,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “It’s an inducement to take your child out of public schools, which takes money away from our public schools, which hurts our schools…Although I’m not a lawyer, I believe it’s clear what our founding fathers meant by that.”

“This is a victory for West Virginia families over out-of-state liberal lawyers and activists who try to block educational freedom and school choice for children in our state. “Moore said after the Supreme Court ruling. “The Hope Scholarship will provide families – especially those with low incomes – the opportunity to pursue educational opportunities that are best suited for their children.”

Any public school student can apply for the program, but if a West Virginia student is currently enrolled in a private school or was enrolled full-time in a private school the previous school year, the student is not eligible. eligible.

According to WVMetroNews, scholarships have been approved for 122 students from Mercer County, nine from Monroe County and three from McDowell County.

Buckland said the WVFUE exists “to ensure that all families have quality K12 options, know about them, and have access to an expert to navigate them.” The organization’s website is wvfue.org.

— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]

Ryan H. Bowman