CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WOWK) – A judge ruled on Wednesday that a West Virginia law pertaining to the Hope Scholarship to be unconstitutional in Kanawha County Court.
Judge Joanna Tabit blocked the state from launching the Hope Scholarship voucher program saying it would ultimately take public funds and use it for private education expenses.
The Hope Scholarship voucher program was signed into law by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice in 2021 with plans for it to go into effect for the 2022-2023 school year. More than 3,000 students have already been awarded the scholarship which would have been used for educational purposes this fall. Each student receives $4,300 to go toward private or homeschooled education.
The plaintiffs argued the law incentivizes students to leave the already under-funded public education system, but defendants argue the money would come from the state’s general fund.
In the end, Judge Tabit deemed the law violates the state’s constitution for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.
“Public funds are set aside for free schools. This makes sure that all of our children are protected and that’s what the court agreed. That the constitution doesn’t allow the state to take money and pay it to families that chose private school or homeschooling,” said Attorney Tamerlin Godley, who represents the plaintiffs.
“It draws general funds just like any other thing—like public roads, libraries and any other services will take money. And that’s all that this program does. It’s not drawing from the public funds and because the legislature has a duty to fund public schools at an adequate level,” said Attorney Joshua House, who represents the state.
A fiscal note produced for lawmakers when the bill first passed estimated that the full cost upon implementation could be as much as $100 million aside from public education.
The defense has already said they plan to appeal, but it’s likely the issue will go to the West Virginia State Supreme Court next.