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west virginia capitol

The West Virginia Capitol Complex is seen earlier this month.

The Republican-dominated West Virginia House of Delegates expanded their private- and home-schooling vouchers bill Wednesday to not only give public money to any family who newly chooses to remove their children from public schools.

Lawmakers approved amending the bill so it would give that money, currently estimated at $4,600 per student, to families who already have their children in private school or home school.

This extra subsidizing of current home- and private-schoolers wouldn’t start until the 2026-27 school year, so current lawmakers won’t have to worry about paying for it. The amendment was adopted on a voice vote, with nays heard, after Democrats spoke against it. Republicans hold a supermajority in the House, and the state Senate.

The bill is scheduled for passage by the House Thursday. It would then head to the Senate.

Republicans also resoundingly killed Democratic delegates’ proposed amendments to:

  • cap the total number of students who could receive the vouchers
  • exclude wealthier families from receiving the money, and
  • add protections for students from discrimination based on religion and LGBT status.

The vast majority of West Virginia’s private schools are Christian, and students could use the vouchers to attend them. However, without these anti-discrimination protections, these schools will be free to not admit and otherwise discriminate against children who don’t match the school’s religion, or who are gay or transgender.

Before Wednesday’s major amendment, the bill would’ve still allowed every public school student to withdraw and receive funding for alternative education.

Since the funding is only $4,600 per student, many families likely still wouldn’t be able to afford home-schooling, even with that voucher to pay for online programs and other educational expenses. Many private schools also charge above that amount.

Also in the bill, before the amendment, kindergartners could’ve also gone straight into the program without ever entering a public school.

Now, with the amendment, every family in West Virginia would be able to get the voucher money for every child they have — every family except those who choose to keep their kids in public school.

“The concept of the bill is that it was a choice for the people in public schools to make, to go try to find something different, and it was not for the folks who had already made that decision,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “By including those folks, it may feel somewhat equitable, but the price tag just went right through the roof.”

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, proposed the ultimately failed amendment to exclude families whose household income exceeds $100,000, or exceeds $50,000 for parents filing alone.

“I’ve heard the word ‘choice’ for a very, very long time and that word is an act of selecting or making a decision when one is faced with two or more possibilities,” Hornbuckle said. “So, for a lot of these people that [another delegate] is speaking about, they already have that possibility, they already have the possibility to enjoy the private school education that they so wish.”

He said, “I’m trying here again to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and to be fiscally conservative. And I’m going to be frank: I’m getting confused because there’s a lot of people who are spending very liberally in here.”

House Education Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, spoke against Democrats’ proposed anti-discrimination amendment.

“Parents are choosing to send their child to this particular program,” he said. “Unlike the public school system, it’s not a school that is being chosen for them.”

That amendment failed 21-72, with only Democrats voting for it. Delegate Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote with the Republicans.

Seven delegates were absent for that vote: Shawn Fluharty, Marty Gearheart, Joshua Higginbotham, John Kelly, Daniel Linville, Christopher Toney and Steve Westfall.

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