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Republicans in West Virginia passed a dramatic voucher bill that allows people to spend public education funds on almost anything. Governor Jim Justice, a billionaire, signed the bill into law.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Saturday signed into law the bill that school-choice advocates say will implement the nation’s broadest nonpublic school vouchers program.
Programs in other states are limited to low-income, special-needs or other subsets of students, or have caps on the number of recipients in general. But West Virginia’s program will be open to all K-12 students, including by offering public money to families who already don’t use the public school system.
Effective beginning in the 2022-23 school year, families who withdraw their children from public schools can receive a currently estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year for private- and home-schooling expenses. Families also may receive the money for newly school-aged children whom they never want to go to public schools.
Republican supermajorities passed this legislation (House Bill 2013) without a single Democrat vote.
Democrats raised concern about its effect on public schools, which have been losing students annually since 2012, dropping from about 282,300 children that year to 261,600 in fall 2019 and, after the coronavirus pandemic hit, 252,400 in fall 2020.
State funding for public schools is largely based on enrollment, and children leaving them take that money with them to home- and private-schooling in the form of these vouchers.
The West Virginia Department of Education’s operations officer has said she expects public schools to retain most of their federal funds, plus any local excess levy property tax revenue, regardless. Some counties don’t have school excess levies.
Parents could use these vouchers for a nearly unlimited list of educational expenses, including online education programs, tutoring, books and private schooling, whether religious or secular. The vast majority of West Virginia private schools are Christian, but the bill doesn’t prohibit using the money for out-of-state boarding schools or other private, out-of-state education providers.
The legislation (House Bill 2013) has a trigger that will automatically be pulled if participation in the program isn’t above 5% of the statewide public school enrollment within the program’s first two years. If that’s the case, then, starting July 1, 2026, parents of all current nonpublic school children will be able to get the vouchers.
But whether that is triggered or not, the fact that the program offers the vouchers to parents of rising kindergarteners so they can avoid public schools in the first place means it eventually will be open to all who intended to avoid public schools all along.
Estimates from two state agencies projected that — aside from the roughly $22 million to $24 million in annual funding the program will shift from public schools to fund vouchers for students who are anticipated to leave public schools — the program’s biggest financial effect will be about $103 million annually in new state funding that will be required to subsidize those who weren’t going to public schools anyway.
There are an estimated 22,300 private- and home-school students in West Virginia.
Comparable private-/home-school voucher programs in other states, dubbed “education savings accounts” (ESAs) despite them generally being funded by the state instead of a family’s own investments, are far more limited than West Virginia’s program.
Read the rest of the story. Voucher zealots are thrilled.
West Virginia is hurtling rapidly backward into the nineteenth century.