W.Va. private school savings accounts bill heads to governor

John Raby
Associated Press
W.Va. State Capitol

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Wednesday to allow publicly funded savings accounts for students to attend private schools over vehement opposition from Democrats.

Some educators complained the move would be costly, unnecessary and discriminatory.

Meanwhile, another bill that would allow striking teachers to be fired became law without the governor’s signature.

The Senate approved the savings account bill on a 20 to 13 vote Wednesday. One senator was absent. The bill now goes to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature. The House of Delegates passed the bill last month.

The program, named the Hope Scholarship, would put state money into a special account that parents could then spend on private school tuition, homeschooling and other educational needs. It would allow private and homeschooled students to participate, pushing the potential cost to the state to more than $100 million annually. The state portion would be capped at $4,600 per child.

Raleigh County Republican Rollan Roberts, an administrator of a private Christian school, said the savings account bill “attempts to give real hope to struggling children and the hurting families.

“There’s a relatively small remnant of children who for any number of reasons do not fit in with the one-size-fits-all approach of public education.”

Most private schools in West Virginia are Christian. Some Democrats said the bill discriminates based on a student’s religion and sexual orientation.

Mason County Republican Amy Nichole Grady, an elementary school teacher who voted for the bill, said only five states offer similar education savings accounts. She predicted the state will not see an influx of people trying to use them.

Grady recalled seeking help for a dyslexic student in her classroom only to find out her local special education services did not cover dyslexia. So Grady did extra planning and took the time to adapt her classroom to successfully help the student.

The bill will “help parents to provide something for them (that) maybe the school system can’t,” Grady said. “So I want to think about doing what’s right. And what’s right is making sure that all of our students in West Virginia have a good, quality education that’s good for them.”

Under the teacher strike bill, participation in a strike would be grounds for termination. County boards of education could instead order the prorated salary or hourly pay of a public employee to be forfeited for each day of their participation in a strike.

Last week, Republican Gov. Jim Justice approved a bill that will increase the number of charter schools allowed in West Virginia every three years from three to 10 and allow for online-only charter schools. Charters schools were allowed under a 2019 bill signed by the governor.

Some educators and Democrats argued the move to install charters and education vouchers was driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee has labeled the bills on savings accounts, charter schools and teacher strikes as “retaliatory.”