Despite their approval Wednesday of what’s likely the nation’s broadest non-public school vouchers program, West Virginia lawmakers may not be finished providing financial benefits for private- and home-schooling.
The House Education Committee advanced Thursday legislation that would allow private- and home-schooling families to reduce the amount in state income taxes they must pay annually by up to $3,000 per child.
They would be able to write off their taxes educational expenses, like tuition, tutoring and textbooks, of up to that amount, if House Bill 2778 passes the full Legislature.
On Wednesday, the Legislature sent to the governor, for approval or veto, House Bill 2013. That’s the non-public school vouchers bill, also called the Hope Scholarship.
If approved by the governor, it will offer public funds to every family who removes their children from public schools, plus eventually subsidize every family who never public schooled at all.
Families who receive that currently estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year voucher would, if they still have private- and home-school expenses exceeding that amount, be allowed to take advantage of both the voucher and the tax reduction.
That would be a total alternative education cost reduction of $7,600 per child.
“I guess the way the bill was written, that’s a potential,” said Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, regarding stacking the voucher and tax credit benefits. “That wasn’t necessarily the intent of it.”
Ellington noted the House Finance Committee is next set to consider the bill.
“There’s room to change that, or codify that better to delineate what we really want,” he said.
He said the intent was to provide the tax credit to parents who are already private- or home-schooling because they won’t, at least in the early years of the vouchers program, be eligible for the vouchers.
“This is just helping them out to take a little burden off of them,” Ellington said. “Because the state’s obligation is to provide education to each of the students, not just the ones in public school.”
The state constitution says the “Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” That has historically been fulfilled through tuition-free public schools, without accompanying subsidization of alternatives to public schools.
He noted that the vouchers bill has a provision that, if a non-public student were enrolled in public school for at least 45 days, they could un-enroll after that time and immediately become eligible for the voucher — way ahead of the phased-in eligibility for current non-public school students.
“We really don’t want to have everyone just flood into the public school system just to leave it,” he said. “The goal is we would like to see them get back into the public school system and get a great education from it. That’s our ultimate goal, but we also realize there are small populations of people that need alternative choices.”
The bill passed the committee on a voice vote, with nays heard.
“We have been spending a lot of money,” said Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph and a public school teacher.