It’s scheduled for possible amendments Wednesday on the floor of the full House.
The retracted version of the legislation (House Bill 2013) would’ve provided an estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year to every family for every child they removed from public schools to home- or private-school them.
That near-universal eligibility for these vouchers is likely unprecedented among these types of programs in other states.
The annual per-student amount would’ve been based on another number that itself fluctuates, but $4,600 annually was the latest estimate.
Several years from now, the bill would’ve also provided that money each year to families who already had chosen home-schooling or private-schooling anyway.
On Feb. 19, the full House sent the bill back to the House Finance Committee. It sat there until Monday, when the committee passed it back to the full House for a re-vote that could happen later this week.
But, before committee members did that Monday, they voted in a voice vote with no dissent in favor of reducing the per-student, per-year amount to $3,000.
The committee members also, in another voice vote, this time with a few nays heard, backed a package of other changes.
Those included a provision that could delay the bill’s subsidizing of current home- and private-schooling families beyond when the retracted version would’ve started funding them.
The bill generally allows only current public school students to qualify — the changes advanced Monday would specifically require public school enrollment for at least 45 days.
Regardless, since the bill, even with changes, still would allow families to receive the vouchers for their kindergartners without ever enrolling them in public schools, and because eligibility continues as the child ages, every year more and more families who had always planned to avoid public schools would still be subsidized.
Delegates Jeffrey Pack, R-Raleigh, and Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, proposed the amendment to cut the voucher amount to $3,000. Pack said he’d “rather not talk about” why he did.
House Finance Vice Chairman Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said that setting it at $3,000 makes the program’s cost more predictable, compared to relying on a changing number. And, he said, it makes the bill “a little more palatable from a fiscal standpoint.”
“It was just a number that was less,” Criss said of $3,000. He said the $4,600 was also arbitrary.
Even at $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.
During the Feb. 18 full House vote to pass the bill, Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, had voted no. Before he did, he raised concern that providing the vouchers would drive up private school tuition, including for students already enrolled in private schools.
“We can just look at the university system and understand that that’s been the case for the last 20 years, the price continues to get bid up, right, because we have bank loans that anyone could get,” McGeehan said.
Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia and a House Finance member, also echoed that sentiment this week.
Americans for Prosperity, a libertarian-leaning group founded by the Koch brothers, has been backing the bill.
Jason Huffman, the group’s West Virginia state director, said “we’re excited that lawmakers are continuing to prioritize this particular piece of legislation that would give families more flexibility when it comes to getting the right education for their child.”
“The decision to limit the amount of each scholarship account to $3,000 is disappointing and lawmakers should seek to change that language back,” he said.
House Finance’s changes also remove a line saying the board overseeing the vouchers program is subject to state open meetings and open records laws. But Jared Hunt, spokesperson for the State Treasurer’s Office, said those laws will still apply to it because it’s a public board.