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Supreme Court hears Hope Scholarship arguments

Attorneys on both sides of the Hope Scholarship told the justices of the state Supreme Court 4,300 reasons why the legislation would work — or not work — for West Virginia schoolchildren.

That number corresponds with the dollars that are in the State Aid Formula for public education here.

West Virginia currently allocates $4,300 for every student enrolled in a public school in all 55 counties — although that number can change, based on enrollment.

Under the legislation that is the Hope Scholarship, that’s how much would be given to parents or other caregivers who qualify.

The money, which would be awarded in a lump sum, would be used to enroll their children in a charter school, private school or some other form of alternative education.

Proponents said the outlay would give something most West Virginia households don’t have — choice.

Opponents, however, told the justices that choice would be taken away for the majority of Mountain State taxpayers, in that public monies would be used to pay for private education.

Now, it’s up to the court to make a ruling — and there was no definitive answer Tuesday as to when that might happen.

In the meantime, the core question remained: Can the scholarship coexist with the Constitution?

Attorney Tamerlin Godley, in her argument to do away with the scholarship, said that isn’t possible.

Godley, who co-founded the outreach firm Public Funds Public Schools, expounded on her remarks after arguments were heard.

“Hundreds of thousands of West Virginia students” will have their Constitutional rights violated, should the measure go through, she said.

“We have urged the Court to protect them by invalidating this unconstitutional law and ensuring that precious public dollars remain in the public schools.”

More than 3,000 students had qualified for the scholarship when it was struck down in July in Kanawha County.

The measure, Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit said in her dismissal of it, fails to provide “a thorough and efficient system of free schools” for all.

In West Virginia, however, free schools that are still low-performing exact an academic debt that isn’t always paid up by the time a student hits senior year.  

Recent assessments of reading and math scores showed the state near the bottom of the nation in those benchmarks.

Monongalia County’s school district, though, generally kept a comparative national pace with its proficiency scores in those disciplines — and even outperformed in some areas.

Learning is learning, said Lindsey See, the West Virginia solicitor general who argued for the scholarship.

And the idea, she said, is to keep the momentum, so what Mon’s district does yearly and daily can turn into a matter of course for the rest of the state.

Parents should have options, she said, based on the learning styles and academic needs of their children.

The scholarship, she said, embodies that, with its opportunities for different academic environments.

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