CHARLESTON — A group representing county school superintendents and the leader of one of West Virginia’s two teachers’ union praised members of the state Board of Education on Wednesday for taking a stand against the Hope Scholarship and warning against perceived attacks on public education by lawmakers.
The state Board of Education met Wednesday in Charleston for its monthly meeting. The board heard presentations by delegations, including from Adam Cheeseman, superintendent of Doddridge County Schools and president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators.
Cheeseman expressed his support to the state board and the Department of Education for siding with the parents who filed a lawsuit earlier this year to halt implementation of the Hope Scholarship education savings account program.
“I stand before you on behalf of the 55 county superintendents … to say thank you for your service. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for standing up for what is right regarding public education,” Cheeseman said. “We see that you know full well what is at stake for our public schools.”
The board and department have sided with three parents who brought suit against education officials, Gov. Jim Justice, State Treasurer Riley Moore, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, over the Hope Scholarship. The program allows parents of public school students to use a portion of the state school aid formula set aside for their student and use that for educational services outside the public school system, such as private school tuition, home schooling, tutoring, and more.
Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit ruled last week in favor of a preliminary and permanent injunction blocking the program, stating that the program violates the state Constitution that requires the state to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of free public schools supervised by the state Board of Education. Despite being named as defendants in the lawsuit, State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch and state board President Miller Hall filed briefs in support of blocking the Hope Scholarship.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, also thanked the board for its stance against the Hope Scholarship, expressing what he called “happiness and joy” at Tabit’s decision blocking the Hope Scholarship from starting this school year.
“I wanted to make you smile this morning because we’ve had some wins in West Virginia,” Lee said to the board members. “It was great that Judge Tabit recognized that the Constitution provides for a free and public education for our children and ruled that way … I applaud you for taking such a stand and reaching out and saying that we have to protect our public schools because that’s what we have to do.”
Cheeseman said the Hope Scholarship would drain public school systems of school aid formula funding as more and more students take advantage of the voucher program. More than 3,146 Hope Scholarship applications have been awarded since the May 15 deadline at a cost of about $14.5 million, or $4,600 per students. The total cost to the state could rise to as much as $102.9 million after 2026 when all public, private, and home school students would be eligible.
“Public education in West Virginia is in peril from many fronts,” Cheeseman said. “The core foundation enshrined in our state constitution — a thorough and efficient system of free schools — means nothing unless school boards can purchase instructional material, hire teachers, feed students, and run buses. Without the funds necessary for these items, our system is neither thorough nor efficient. Our constitution requires our state government to provide for these things in every public school.”