By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House Education Committee, on Wednesday, advanced legislation which would expand eligibility of West Virginia’s Hope Scholarship program to include all school-age children in the state.
As explained by House counsel, “This bill (HB 2619) removes language requiring any non-public school enrollment, and allows all elementary and secondary school students who are West Virginia residents to apply for the scholarship.”
The scholarship is currently available only to students attending one of West Virginia public schools. If enacted, HB 2619 would expand eligibility to include homeschool, private school, and micro-school students, as well as all other non-traditional public school students in the state.
Nearly 16 months after its passage during the 2021 legislative session, an injunction was placed on the Hope Scholarship by Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit, on the grounds that using public funds for non-public educational expenses was unconstitutional. However, an October, 2022 ruling by the State Supreme Court of Appeals lifted the injunction. The first round of payments was released by the State Treasurer’s office on Jan. 16.
Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia – who opposed the program’s expansion – questioned both House counsel, as well as General Counsel Sarah Canterbury of the State Treasurer’s office as to the eligibility status of applicants currently within the foster system.
“If the children are in foster care and their biological parents still have rights, who will the Hope Scholarship be sent to?” Walker asked. “The foster care parent, the biological parent, or to the State of West Virginia?”
In response to Walker’s question, Canterbury advised the committee that, “Whoever has legal guardianship at that time would be the one to apply, and to manage the student’s account.”
“I think it’s important to note that no biological parent or guardian actually receives the funds,” Canterbury added. “They just have the ability to direct the funds in that account that they manage.”
Canterbury further noted that in the case of a child being under the guardianship of the state, the individual assigned to make medical decisions for that child would also have the authority to apply for the Hope Scholarship, and manage the account.
With HB 2619 having been adopted by the House Education Committee, it will now be referred to the House Committee on Finance. The RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 2619 as additional information is made available.