West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds School Choice Law, Reverses Lower Court Ruling

West Virginia Supreme Court Upholds School Choice Law, Reverses Lower Court Ruling
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey speaks at an event in Inwood, W.Va., on Oct. 22, 2018. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

West Virginia’s highest court greenlighted a school choice program that a lower court previously blocked.

School choice became a hot political issue during the COVID-19-related lockdowns as parents questioned governmental authority and what should be taught to children in public schools.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, a Republican, hailed the ruling in a post on Twitter.

“Many thanks go out to the WV Supreme Court for reversing the Kanawha Circuit Court and determining that the Hope Scholarship is constitutional. WV kids deserve the best public schools and as many private sector options as possible. This is a big win for educational freedom.”

In an Oct. 6 order, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia dissolved a permanent injunction by 13th Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit in Kanawha County blocking the Hope Scholarship Program. Tabit was appointed by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, in 2014.

Those participating in the program, which was approved last year by state lawmakers, receive as much as $4,300 per year to exit the public school system.

“The funds could be used for a variety of reasons, such as private school tuition and fees, online education, education therapies, tutoring, etc. Established in 2021, more than 3,000 students were awarded the scholarship for 2022-23,” according to a Fox News summary.

Tabit ruled (pdf) at the time that the state had acted to create “an incentive to leave the public school system, reducing its enrollment and funding. The loss of this funding will impact public school students, including Plaintiffs’ children who have special needs that can only be met through West Virginia’s public schools.”

Two parents had challenged the program in court, claiming the so-called voucher law was unconstitutional. Public school teachers’ unions also opposed the law.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee previously told the media outlet the U.S. Constitution provides for a free and thorough education through a public system, not through the private sector.

Parents “have the choice to homeschool their children, to public school their children, to private school their children, to church school them,” Lee said. “This is actually about the taxpayer dollars used to provide that choice for them.”

The state Supreme Court said in a brief order that it had to act quickly and would provide reasons for its decision later.

“Acting without undue delay given the nature of the constitutional matters at issue and the need to resolve the appeal in an expedited manner, the Court issues its decision by this order with a detailed opinion to follow,” the order states.

Two justices dissented from the ruling.

The Epoch Times reached out for comment to the West Virginia Education Association but had not received a reply as of press time.