CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s attorney general asked a court on Tuesday to stay a ruling that struck down a state-sponsored education voucher program.
Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed his motion with the state Intermediate Court of Appeals. It seeks a stay, pending appeal, of a Kanawha County judge’s ruling July 6 involving the Hope Scholarship program. A law passed last year would have funneled state money into the program that incentivized families to pull their children out of K-12 public schools.
“The lower court’s ruling undermining parents’ freedom to choose how they educate their children is legally wrong and deeply disappointing, and we are ready to appeal as soon as the lower court issues its written order confirming its ruling from nearly two weeks ago,” Morrisey said in a statement. “In the meantime, we are urging the appellate court to stay the decision so that thousands of West Virginia families can receive the money the Legislature intended for the upcoming school year — which starts in a matter of weeks.”
Circuit Court Judge Joanna Tabit ruled that the program, which would have been one of the most far-reaching school choice programs in the country, violates the state’s constitutional mandate to provide “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”
Without the stay, Morrisey argued that the state and families will “suffer irreparable harm: A validly enacted law will stand mute because the Legislature’s policy judgments ‘troubled’ a single judge, and students across the state will be stripped of educational opportunities for at least a year.”
Passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, the law would have allowed families to apply for state funding to support private school tuition, homeschooling fees and a wide range of other expenses. More than 3,000 students had been approved to receive around $4,300 each during the program’s inaugural cycle.
Families could not receive the money if their children were already homeschooled or attending private school. To qualify, students had to have been enrolled in a West Virginia public school last year or set to begin kindergarten this upcoming school year.
In January, three parents filed a lawsuit saying the program incentivized students to withdraw from public schools and drained funds from the public education system. The suit was supported by the West Virginia Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools.
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