Editorials, Opinion

Let them play: Find equitable alternative to House Bill 2820

We’ve made our stance clear on syphoning education funds from public schools and distributing them to private, parochial or charter schools or even individuals: You can’t expect the public education system to improve if it’s been drained of money and resources.

However, when it comes to school athletics, we tend to err on the side of “let them play.”

Which is why we firmly believe that nothing about HB 2820 — to allow Hope Scholarship students, as well as students in microschools or learning pods, to play on public school sports teams — makes sense.

The Hope Scholarship is a program in which the state pays to families who withdraw their child from public school what the state would have paid to the school for that child. The payment is based on the state allocation per kid from the previous year ($4,725 per student for this academic year). Basically, the only qualifications to receive the Hope Scholarship are the child must be a resident of the state, must have been enrolled in a public school for at least 45 days before withdrawing and the funds must be used for educational expenses — which includes tuition to private or parochial schools. (A separate bill currently under consideration, HB 2619, would open the Hope Scholarship to all West Virginia kids, not just ones leaving public schools, which could cost the state up to $160 million per year.)

A 2020 law already allows home-schooled students to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities at their local public school. HB 2820 would add Hope Scholarship, microschool and learning pod students. Hope Scholarship kids who are attending a private school could only participate in public school sports that are not already offered at the private school they attend.

Here’s where HB 2820 doesn’t make sense: It lets Hope Scholarship students attending private schools play for public school sports teams, but a non-Hope Scholarship student at the same private school wanting to play the same public school sport wouldn’t be allowed to do so. Delegate Shawn Hornbuckle (D-Cabell) rightfully called out this double standard, suggesting it could be unconstitutional.

Sports and extracurriculars foster socialization, cooperation and a variety of other life skills. This is why we have previously supported legislation that would allow home-schooled students to join teams at their local public school. But excluding a specific type of student — in this case, private school students who do not have the Hope Scholarship — is unequitable.

Public school sports and extracurriculars should be open to any West Virginia student — regardless if they attend a public school, a charter school, a private school, a microschool, etc. That said, all participants should contribute to program funding. This can, and likely does, include boosters and other fundraising efforts, but it should also include an additional fee for non-public school students, in particular for Hope Scholarship students who are getting the money that would have gone to the school.

If the Legislature wants to make school sports more accessible to more kids, it should scrap HB 2820 and craft a bill that encompasses all students, instead of continuing to pass a patchwork of bills that includes some and excludes others.