W.Va. legislators hear about possible school voucher legislation

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W.Va. legislators hear about possible school voucher legislation
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

West Virginia lawmakers heard Monday about possible legislation that would benefit families of homeschool and private school students, including “Education Savings Accounts” that could give families public money to pay tuition to private schools, including religious schools, and other education costs.

The discussion at Monday’s Joint Standing Committee on Education meeting — which also featured more talk about a possible “Tim Tebow” bill that could allow homeschool and more private school students to participate in public school sports and other activities — occurred as West Virginia public school systems face enrollment declines, funding drops and school consolidations.

Last school year, West Virginia had 11,080 homeschool students and 10,405 private school pupils, according to the state Department of Education. The public school enrollment, at 277,137, was about 13 times the combined private and homeschool total. This year’s public school enrollment is 273,170, a drop of nearly 4,000 students from last school year. The department doesn’t yet have private and homeschool enrollment numbers for this school year.

Public school enrollment dropped nearly 2,760 students from the 2014-15 school year to last school year. At the time, that was the biggest one-year decrease in about 15 years — although the establishment of the state’s free public school pre-kindergarten program since 2002-03 might limit direct comparability over that time.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said he invited the pro-Educational Savings Account speakers from the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy; the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona-based group that describes itself as “a national leader for constitutionally limited government” and has anti-tax activist Grover Norquist on its Board of Directors; and EdChoice, an Indiana-based group advocating for “school choice” policies.

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