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Treasurer wants the Hope apps all year

West Virginia Treasurer Riley Moore wants to lower some barriers for the Hope Scholarship, which provides money for students leaving the public school system to use for a variety of education costs.

At the top of his list is elimination of a Hope Scholarship deadline in future academic years, opening the program up to year-round applications.

Under the current legislative rule, the Hope Scholarship application period is set up to run March 1-May 15 each year. More than 5,700 students have been awarded the Hope Scholarship for the 2023-24 year that begins today in some parts of the state and soon in others.

Moore, a Republican who is also running for Congress, has introduced the concept of year-round application to the board that oversees the Hope Scholarship.

“Right now we do it one time a year,” Moore said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “And as we’ve worked through this process and become better at it, we feel it is going to be better for the parents, the students and also better for us as we administer the program for the window to be open all year round.”

Moore also said he intends to work with legislators to allow the program to operate on a quarterly funding model.

The Hope Scholarship law requires the Hope Scholarship Board to provide funds to qualified students twice a year, with the first half of funds for an academic year provided by Aug. 15 and the remaining half provided by Jan. 15. Moore would like lawmakers to allow the board to fund accounts on a quarterly basis.

“So then, as we approve people all through the year, depending on where they are on the school year, then it would be full or partial funding for that year in which they are approved, depending on the time of year it is,” he said. “That’s a really big deal, so I think that’s something a lot of families and students would love to see.”

Earlier this month, the Hope Scholarship board agreed to change the program’s reimbursement policy to provide additional educational purchasing options for participating families.

The board will now allow reimbursement requests for widely and immediately available “off-the-shelf” curriculum packages that are available for purchase on the open market.

Until now, curriculum could only be purchased with Hope Scholarship funds through the program’s online Education Market Assistant portal. However, some of the most widely used curriculum providers do not offer their products through the EMA portal in West Virginia or through similar programs in other states.

So during a meeting earlier this month, the Hope Scholarship Board approved policy changes that would allow participating families to purchase these pre-packaged curriculum options on the open market and be reimbursed by the board.

“We’re trying to give them more flexibility,” Moore said on “Talkline.”

“I am absolutely committed to educational choice and freedom in the state of West Virginia and making this program as successful as it can be and as accessible as it can be.”

The Legislature passed and the governor then signed a bill establishing the Hope Scholarships in 2021. There’s a 45-day minimum enrollment period in public schools for students to become eligible as they depart for other education environments. West Virginia’s program also allows students old enough to enter the school system for the first time to be eligible immediately.

Families can use the accounts for a range of expenses like homeschooling, private school tuition, online learning, after-school or summer-learning programs or educational therapies. The scholarship amount varies each school year. The statewide average net state aid per pupil for the 2022-23 fiscal year is $4,725.07.

Under the current law, the Hope Scholarship could expand to all children, regardless of whether they already started in a private school or homeschool, by summer 2026. That could come at a cost of millions of dollars to the state.

Moore would like to speed up the process of opening the scholarship to all students.

“I think it does make sense to do that sooner rather than later. In my view, I think it would make it a lot easier from an administrative standpoint,” he said.

“And I think it would just get us better prepared to be able to handle the, obviously, additional amount of students. I think flexibility, choice, increasing that and making it more open to every student in the state of West Virginia as soon as possible — I think would be a definition of success for me.”

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said the state should more thoroughly assess how Hope Scholarship is already being used before altering the framework currently in place.

“Those things were put in place for a reason. Let’s look at the data that we’re just now being provided before we say let’s open it up.

Lee said he believes strongly in a parent’s right to choose, but contends taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to fund that choice. He said that if public schools are being held accountable, then there should be the same accountability for outcomes from the public dollars being used for alternative forms of education.

“If you’re going to make public schools accountable,” he said, “you need accountability for those students, too.”

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said there could be hidden consequences of the treasurer’s push to accept Hope Scholarship applications year-round. As students leave the public school system to other education formats funded by Hope, he said, that would complicate local schools’ budgeting and staffing.

“Opening up Hope Scholarship applications to be accepted year-round would make properly staffing our public schools virtually impossible for county boards of education,” Albert said.

“The proposal ignores the long-range planning and projections that factor into not only hiring education employees, but also transferring current staff due to enrollment shifts. Staffing our schools would be a constantly moving target for our boards of education, and ultimately the majority of our West Virginia children, who are public school students, would suffer.”