Read the full brief here.
West Virginia’s state constitution requires that, “the Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” But due to a confluence of factors, including a growing Hope Scholarship voucher program, declining state revenues due to sweeping tax cuts, and the end of federal pandemic-era funding, school districts across West Virginia are facing a funding cliff going into the 2024-25 school year. The cumulative effect could challenge the state’s ability to provide that mandated thorough and efficient education to the vast majority of school-age children in West Virginia who attend its public schools. As lawmakers mull the expansion of the Hope Scholarship, research from around the country shows that growing voucher programs have mixed or negative achievement results for students who participate in them, while a lack of accountability regarding public spending raises questions about where the funds diverted from the public education system are going.
- West Virginia’s Hope Scholarship program has no cost or enrollment caps, no income limits, and requires no public accountability through collection and publication of program data.
- The Hope Scholarship provides $4,489 per student for the 2023 school year, while the average private school tuition in West Virginia is over $6,200 annually, even before accounting for additional fees that private schools often charge. This means that the amount of the scholarship is not sufficient to allow a student to attend private school unless their family can afford the additional thousands of dollars needed to fund a private education.
- Recent research shows mixed or negative achievement results for students participating in voucher programs. Respective studies in Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio showed voucher students experienced significant losses in math achievement, large negative losses in reading and math, and worse academic outcomes than their closely matched peers attending public schools.
- Students who utilize the Hope Scholarship must waive their Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) protections and approved Hope Scholarship schools are not required to provide disability accommodations or follow a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
- West Virginia public education officials are warning lawmakers that insufficient public education funding is driving ongoing crises in hiring and retaining teachers, aides, and bus drivers.
- West Virginia’s per pupil spending on public education is $1,300 below the national average and less than all neighboring states except for Kentucky.
- Statewide, the loss of funding from the public education system to the Hope Scholarship is expected to total over $21.6 million in the 2024-25 school year, meaning school districts across West Virginia will lose the state aid funding for an estimated 364 staff, including approximately 301 professional educators and 63 school service personnel.
- In total, West Virginia’s 55 school districts will have $392 million less in the 2024-25 school year than they did in the 2023-24 school year due to the expiration of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds combined with state funding losses from students utilizing the Hope Scholarship to leave the public school system for private schools. Nearly half of the expended ESSER funds have been used for personnel costs.
- The Hope Scholarship is expected to quintuple in cost if an automatic eligibility expansion to all children, including those already in private school, goes into effect. While students who leave the public school system divert existing taxpayer funds away from public schools, students who become eligible for the Hope Scholarship despite never having attended public schools will represent substantial new costs to the state budget