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Hope scholarship students could play on public school teams under bill passed by House

Delegates passed a bill that would allow Hope Scholarship recipients who are educated in non-public settings to participate on public school athletic teams.

“All it is doing is allowing kids to play,” said Delegate Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam, lead sponsor of the bill.

The Hope Scholarship is available to students leaving the public school system or for kindergarten-aged students whose families are opting out of sending them to public schools in the first place.

House Bill 2820 would allow scholarship recipients attending private schools, microschools, learning pods or homeschool settings to participate on public school teams unless the sport is already offered at their school.

The House of Delegates passed the bill 72-23 on Thursday. It now goes to the state Senate.

Delegates spent several minutes debating whether the policy would open up athletic opportunities for more students or whether it would be unfair.

Delegate Shawn Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, questioned whether West Virginia could get into trouble on constitutional grounds. He noted that private school students who are not Hope Scholarship recipients wouldn’t appear to have the same opportunities with public school teams.

“And so now that brings into question the constitutionality, creating unequal treatment, because if you have two students at a private school one would be eligible due to this legislation but the student sitting right next to him would not be able to,” Hornbuckle said.

Delegate Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, questioned whether homeschooled students would be on an even playing field academically with public school athletes. His point was eligibility based on grades.

“You could have a kid that’s working his tail off in public school to maintain a 2.0 and a kid from homeschool could come and take his place on the team without having the same eligibility requirements,” Vance said.

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, responded that a state law passed in 2020 already allows that participation.

Delegate Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, said his experience as a coach regularly included instances of cutting athletes from teams. He questioned whether allowing students from outside a public school to participate on its teams could result in cuts that come off as unfair.

“I had to make cuts. I had to cut kids. I had to make decisions about who’s going to start and who’s going to sit on the bench, and that’s never easy,” Ferrell said.

“The parents decide, ‘Hey, the school doesn’t work for me, doesn’t work for my kids; I’m going to take that money and take it over here, put it into private education, Christian school, wherever it be. And that’s great. But now that’s done: ‘Oh, wait a minute, we want to go back to the public school and take advantage of their amenities and extracurricular activities.’ It’s ‘I want my cake, and I want to eat it too.’“

Delegate Dave Foggin, R-Wood, said the result will be to broaden the number of students able to participate in sports.

“Kids go to school pretty much where they want to already. This is allowing a kid, just like a homeschooled kid, to play sports where they live, on a team where they would play already,” Foggin said.

“So really the only person who would be getting cheated would be the student who you don’t allow to play a sport.”