The West Virginia Hope Scholarship means more education freedom for Mountain State families.

West Virginia Hope Scholarship means education freedom for Mountain State families

Jan 23, 2024 by AFP

For years, many West Virginia parents have been frustrated. One-size-fits-all traditional schools, with rigid curriculums, keep students and families from having an education pathway that suits their unique needs. 

Mountain State parents were hungry for bottom-up alternatives. An EdChoice poll found 64% of West Virginians support education savings accounts.  

With support from AFP-West Virginia, lawmakers responded to that demand and now, every spring, families can apply for the West Virginia Hope Scholarship, an ESA worth nearly $4,600 per year, per student.  

If they meet the Hope Scholarship requirements, this program allows families to utilize their state education-related tax dollars to create individualized learning experiences that respond to each child’s unique educational needs.  

A new AFP video highlights how this program frees students and helps them find joy in learning.    

West Virginia Hope Scholarship gives parents to power to choose right educational path for their children 

More than 6,300 families applied for the West Virginia Hope Scholarship for the 2023-24 school year, the second year the scholarship was available.  

The Leavitt family was one of them. The Leavitts have five children, four of whom are in public school. But the system was not working for their daughter, McKinley (Mac), who was diagnosed with dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and expressive receptive communication disorder after preschool.   

“I always thought, once we get a diagnosis, then it will all be fixed,” says Mac’s mother, Brittany Leavitt. “We’ll just get her IEP in the school system and they’ll fix it. They have helpers there and it’ll be fine.” 

Brittany says she believes in public schools and wanted her children to have the chance to meet and learn from children and teachers from different backgrounds.  

By first grade, however, the family knew things were not working for Mac at their local public school in Virginia. Even though the teachers were doing everything they could to help her, Mac said she “hated” school and that attending made her feel “frustrated.”    

The family moved to West Virginia because of family roots and, after trying a local public school, they found a Montessori option that was a better fit for Mac.  

 After attending the school for a year, Mac was happy and even was eager to read. Approved by the legislature in 2021, the West Virginia Hope Scholarship now helps the Leavitts pay for tuition at Mac’s school.  

“For me, the Hope Scholarship is about freedom for our family, and meeting the specific needs of our children,” says Tristan Leavitt, Mac’s father. “For Mac to have the support of the state to put her in this private school really means a lot. That’s a community that we feel a part of … This was a monumental accomplishment in West Virginia and Americans for Prosperity played the central role.”  

AFP rallied to support West Virginia Hope Scholarship 

Implementation of the West Virginia Hope Scholarship is the culmination of nearly seven years of work.   

AFP-WV began working with the Cardinal Institute, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in West Virginia, in 2017 to advocate for bottom-up solutions that would improve K-12 education outcomes in the state.   

Through one-on-one meetings with lawmakers, momentum began to build, especially after local public school teachers went on strike to demand more pay and as COVID-19 pandemic learning losses became evident.  

In addition to meeting with policymakers, AFP-WV built a coalition of likeminded groups to advocate for the passage of the Hope Scholarship bill. The coalition included students, parents, the Cardinal Institute, the Institute for Justice, Yes. Every Kid, EdChoice, ExcelinEd, Education Choice West Virginia, Association of Christian Schools International, and Catholic Education Partners. 

The AFP-WV team also:  

  • Facilitated 10,000 patch calls to state lawmakers and the governor;  
  • Held a virtual press conference with coalition members calling for educational freedom;  
  • Penned an op-ed in the West Virginia Record that explained why it was time to reimagine K-12 education in West Virginia; and 
  • Issued a key vote alert urging members of the legislature to support the bill. 

Lawmakers approved ESA legislation in 2021. The state started taking applications for the program in March 2022.   

Interested? Here are the Hope Scholarship requirements 

The state takes applications Hope scholarship between March 1 and May 15 of each year.  

Lawmakers wanted the program to be accessible to as many families as possible to the Hope scholarship requirements are straightforward. To qualify, a student must be a West Virginia resident and fit one of these three criteria 

  • Be eligible to be enrolled in kindergarten for the 2023-24 school year;  
  • Be enrolled full-time in a West Virginia public elementary or secondary school for the entire instructional term of the academic year preceding the academic year for which the student is applying to participate in the Hope Scholarship Program; or  
  • Be enrolled full-time and attending a public elementary or secondary school in West Virginia for at least 45 consecutive calendar days during the current instructional term at the time of application. The student must remain enrolled and attending the public-school program until a decision is reached on the Hope Scholarship application. 

More than 3,000 Hope Scholarship awards were given for the 2022-23 school year. More than 5,000 awards were given the next year. 

AFP-WV State Director Jason Huffman says, “The Hope Scholarship is a rising tide that will lift all ships in West Virginia when it comes to education.”