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Town Hall focuses on education legislation

By Toni Milbourne - For the Chronicle | Apr 30, 2021

Attorney General Patrick Morissey, left, and Sen. Patricia Rucker held a Town Hall meeting at the Martinsburg Airport Monday to discuss education legislation. Toni Milbourne

MARTINSBURG — State Senator Patricia Rucker and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey met with interested parents and educators on Monday afternoon in a Town Hall to discuss several legislative actions pertaining to education.

The top focus was on the Hope Scholarship Program that was passed by the legislature, scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2022. An education savings account, the program is one that Rucker said she is proud to have worked on and seen come to fruition in this current legislative session.

“Our goal is to have the broadest, most open program possible. The number one goal is to give choice to those who do not currently have a choice,” Rucker said, explaining the funds would be available to those who would like to choose private school or homeschool options but have not been able to for whatever reason.

The program would provide funds equal to the West Virginia State Aid Formula amount per student in any given year. Those funds, when applied for and received, would go to approved educational expenses for the child. No funds would be directly allocated to parents, Rucker said.

To qualify as a recipient, a child must be attending and enrolled in public education the year prior to seeking to funding or be an incoming kindergarten student. Other students, who have attended public school for a minimum of 45 days but then decided to opt out would also qualify for the funds.

Children who are currently homeschooled or in private school would not be eligible for the program unless they enrolled in the public school system for that minimum of 45 days.

Those applying for the Hope Scholarship Program are required to follow specific rules of the program and those agencies of educational facilities who receive the funds must also apply and be approved to do so.

Morrisey joined in the conversation, mentioning his office has been in close contact with the Legislature to ensure that bills passed are legally defendable.

“I’m here to lend my support to these provisions,” Morrisey said. “Some will get challenged in court. We will stand for the constitutionality of the Hope Scholarship if needed.”

In a question and answer session, Rucker assured one family that a previous rule in some counties that forced home school students in high school to begin in ninth grade, regardless of their grade level in their home school studies, had been changed.

“Students going into the public schools will start where they should be,” Rucker said.

While those who have been in home school or private school settings cannot take advantage of the program without first entering the public school system for the minimum 45 days, Rucker said the law had an amendment that allowed homes school and private school eligibility beginning in 2026 as long as enrollment in the program within two years remains less than five percent of the total enrollment of students.

“Then it will be open to any West Virginia student,” Rucker said.

Other legislation mentioned in Rucker’s remarks included the passage of Senate Bill 14, which created an expedited way for those with a college degree to become certified to teach.

“This will help us handle the teacher shortage in West Virginia,” Rucker said.

She also mentioned House Bill 3293 that protects female athletes in K-12 and college from having to compete against transgender individuals. Additionally, reference was made to expediting the process at the DMV for first-time drivers who no longer have to get a paper proving enrollment and take to the DMV. Instead, the initial written driver’s test can now be given at the schools.