Thousands of children across West Virginia have new hope for the future.

State legislators have approved a proposal that would allow students to use education savings accounts to choose how and where they learn.

Lawmakers will now send the proposal for these Hope Scholarships to the governor’s desk.

Parents can customize their child’s learning experience according to the child’s needs. With an account, parents can choose from more than one education product or service simultaneously—such as a personal tutor and private school tuition, or textbooks and an education therapist.

Families in Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee already have access to similar account options. Research finds that families are, in fact, using the accounts to meet a child’s unique needs, and parents report high levels of satisfaction with the accounts.

I asked Amanda Kieffer of the Cardinal Institute to explain what that means for West Virginia families and what makes West Virginia’s accounts stand out today.

How Will ESAs Work in West Virginia?

The Hope Scholarship is a type of education savings account that will allow education funding to follow students regardless of their learning environment.

All of the average state portion of allocated education funding, estimated for the first year at $4,600, will be set aside for each child who receives an account. Local and federal funding will remain with the student’s assigned district school.

The State Treasurer’s Office will oversee the program, and the accounts will be administered through an online payment-processing system (rather than a debit card system, like in some states).

Unlike a voucher program, where funds are used like a coupon or tuition certificate that is sent directly to an approved school, the Hope Scholarship funds will be put into an account that parents use to buy education products and services for their student.

Families can customize their child’s learning experience to best meet his or her needs.

How Many Students Will Be Eligible?

Other states’ programs are limited to specific groups of students. For example, Mississippi’s program is limited to children with special needs.

West Virginia’s program is not limited by student needs, family income, or geographic location. All students who have been enrolled full time in public school for a minimum of 45 calendar days or who are of kindergarten age for the 2022-23 school year will be eligible to apply for an account.

The goal is to provide individualized opportunities for all students.

More than 90% of the student population in West Virginia will be eligible immediately upon implementation of the program in 2022. Current homeschoolers and private school students are not eligible unless they return to public school to meet the 45-day minimum enrollment period.

However, the bill does include an opportunity for those students to become eligible. If fewer than 5% of currently eligible students enroll in the Hope Scholarship program by July 1, 2024, then eligibility will expand to 100% of West Virginia’s students on July 1, 2026.

That makes West Virginia’s Hope Scholarship program the broadest and most inclusive education savings account program in the nation. It’s truly revolutionary.

What Can Students Purchase?

Families will be able to spend their Hope Scholarship dollars on tuition at approved education providers, such as private schools and personal tutors. They will also be able to use the funds for textbooks, homeschool curriculum, online classes, transportation services, education therapy, and more.

Why Is This so Necessary for West Virginia Students? 

Well, pick your statistic, and you’ll find a reason why West Virginia’s students need more options and flexibility in education. Here are some of those reasons:

  • West Virginia has the sixth-highest spending per taxpayer on education of any state.
  • 33% of students who enroll in higher education need to take remedial courses to be prepared for their entry-level colleges classes.
  • Then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s 2012 Education Efficiency Audit found that no other state insulated education from voter and gubernatorial control or restricted local initiative as much as West Virginia does.

The state’s motto is “Montani Semper Liberi,” which translates to “Mountaineers Are Always Free.” That freedom should extend to education.

Education is the bedrock of a prosperous community and a fulfilled life. It helps students to pursue happiness and reach their potential. Every child should have those opportunities.

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