State Policy Network
West Virginia passes the most expansive and inclusive school choice program in the nation

Thanks to a multiyear effort by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, West Virginia passed legislation that will expand educational opportunity for thousands of children in the Mountain State.

The bill, called the Hope Scholarship, is essentially an Education Savings Account (ESA), or state-supervised funds that parents can use to pay for a wide variety of education options. The state government deposits a portion of what the state would have spent to send the child to public school into a private account that parents can use for education-related expenses. The Hope Scholarship program provides eligible West Virginia families with $4,600 per year to pay for private school tuition, curriculum, special needs therapy, transportation, and more.

Initially, the program is for students who have been enrolled in public school for a minimum of 45 calendar days or who are kindergarten age for the 2022-2023 school year. In 2027, the program opens up to all West Virginia students, even those who have never attended public school.

Hope Scholarship gives educational opportunity to all West Virginia children, regardless of where they live

In America, where you live determines where you go to school. This one-size-fits-all approach to education hurts low-income families the most, who often live in districts with a poor-performing school. For many West Virginians, attending an underperforming school is the norm, not the exception. The Mountain State consistently ranks as one of the worst school systems in the United States.

West Virginia families with higher incomes can afford to pay for alternate education options, such as private school. But thousands of families don’t have the means to do that. The Hope Scholarship gives these lower income West Virginia families the same education opportunities as wealthier ones.

“This bill is focused on helping those who up until this point haven’t been able to help themselves,” said Amanda Kieffer, Communications Director at the Cardinal Institute.

With the Hope Scholarship in hand, West Virginia parents will be empowered to send their children to a school where they have the best chance to succeed. 

Key to Cardinal’s success? Building relationships and coalitions

Cardinal has been working to provide educational opportunity to West Virginia since the organization was founded in 2015. Before the Cardinal Institute opened its doors, few people in West Virginia were discussing parental choice in education. The state had virtually no education options. Through research, events, videos, media placements, and social media outreach, Cardinal got the Mountain State interested in and excited about expanding the state’s education options. Cardinal noted a big reason for their success was their dedication to building relationships and coalitions throughout the state. Cardinal built relationships with parents, private school groups, homeschool groups, other civic organizations, and state lawmakers. Cardinal also worked with the Institute for Justice, Americans for Prosperity, and EdChoice to bring West Virginians together and promote education options so children can have access to an education that best fits their unique needs.

That coalition-building paid off in 2019, when West Virginia passed its first charter school law. Cardinal carried the momentum from this charter school win into 2021 with the passage of the Hope Scholarship.

Cardinal’s Executive Director, Garrett Ballengee, added: “West Virginia has finally set a gold standard for other states to emulate should those states desire to pursue an education system focused on children first. Bold solutions and big ideas have finally come to West Virginia.”

2021: The year for expanding parental choice in education

Momentum for policies that put children first does not just live within the Mountain State. Other policy organizations across the Network are working on similar policies to improve education options so all American children have access to a quality education that prepares them for college, a career, and life. In fact, eight states are considering ESA-type legislation that will provide students and their families with more education opportunity. These states include: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. And in November of next year, California will consider a parental choice initiative on the state ballot.  

Over the past year, parents have dealt with school closures, online learning, and uncertainty regarding their children’s future. They are stressed and eager for more education options. ESA legislation like the Hope Scholarship is one way to empower parents to make the best education choices for their children.

The West Virginia Governor signed the Hope Scholarship bill into law on March 29, 2021. West Virginia is now the sixth state to have an active ESA program. Congratulations to the Cardinal Institute for giving hope and opportunity to the more than 300,000 children in the Mountain State.

Additional Reading:

Cardinal Celebrates Passage of Hope Scholarship

Everything you need to know about Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

Legislative Win Brings New Hope

Is Private School Covered by The Hope Scholarship

Econ 101 With Dr. JT: Education Costs & The Hope Scholarship

Let’s Give Hope to Those That Need It

W.Va. Senate Moves Forward On Hope Scholarship, Jumpstart Savings Programs

Spotlight on State Legislative Sessions: State Think Tanks Working to Improve Education for Students and Their Families

Categories: Policy Solutions
Policy Issues: K-12 Education
Organization: State Policy Network