West Virginia Supreme Court outlines its ruling on the Hope Scholarship

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CHARLESTON, W. Va.–The West Virginia Supreme Court outlined its reasoning that state financial support for students leaving public schools is constitutional, weeks after dissolving an injunction.

The court released a majority opinion written by Justice Tim Armstead. Justice Bill Wooten concurred, which means he agreed but with somewhat different reasoning. Chief Justice John Hutchison disagreed and issued a dissenting opinion.

The Hope Scholarship, one of the nation’s broadest school voucher programs, was being challenged over whether it undercuts the state constitution’s guarantee of a “thorough and efficient” education system.

Armstead wrote for the majority, “We find that the West Virginia Constitution does not prohibit the Legislature from enacting the Hope Scholarship Act in addition to providing for a thorough and efficient system of free schools. The Constitution allows the Legislature to do both of these things.”

Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit earlier ordered an injunction to halt distribution of the Hope Scholarship for about 3,000 students in its first year.

Tabit asked how the state could possibly afford the program and noted that when students leave public schools, they are no longer counted toward the state’s school aid formula for counties. Lawyers for the state contended that money comes from the state’s General Fund, not directly from money that had already been allocated toward education.

The Supreme Court majority entered an order in October to dissolve the injunction, saying justices would fill in their reasoning later. The opinion represents that step.

The full 49-page opinion sent the case back to Tabit’s court with directions to enter judgement in favor of the petitioners who filed in support of the Hope Scholarship.

Armstead wrote, “we find that the circuit court abused its discretion by permanently enjoining the State from implementing the Hope Scholarship Act.”