One of the top concerns for everyone is equity in education. On paper we have done a good job, investing near average for the nation per capita despite having a historically low GDP. But beyond budgetary reports, how equitable is our education system?
The Current System
West Virginia’s model works well for the rich; they can buy a house in the best school district. The middle class, while not having as much choice, might be able to afford a tutor. The less fortunate kids, regardless of their grit, smarts, or passion, are left with what is provided publicly at the local level. This is where so many inequalities get entrenched.
How the Hope Scholarship Can Help West Virginians
Hope Scholarships could help bridge the gap across this ocean of educational outcomes. A Hope Scholarship is a portion of state-allocated educational dollars that get paid directly to the family for use on educational expenses. The family can use this on a range of state-approved educational items: tutors, books, technology, broadband, special-needs therapies, and even college credits could be paid for.
Critically, these scholarships give kids from low-income families more than the bare minimum. It gives them the space to invest in and choose their own educational path, offering more hope for their futures. For some people, the “extras” in education become the best part of the education. It is incredibly harmful to our future generations to keep these opportunities exclusively in the hands of the wealthy.
Bridging the Gap for Students with Special Needs
Equity means much more than having similar choice ranges. It also means enabling the student to have the options that fit their potential and help account for their specific needs. We spend a lot of time putting square blocks in round holes, and nowhere is that more evident than those with learning disabilities.
In our own state we have seen how school choice can help those who were previously left behind. We have an awesome dyslexia tutor named Jenifer White from Barboursville who has stepped up, which is even more critical post-COVID. Imagine if every low-income kid who struggled with reading got two to three hours of specialist care a week to fill in those critical gaps!
It’s not just dyslexia, there are plenty of areas in which we particularly underserve kids in our educational system. That’s not to say it is intentional, it’s simply that public schools aim for the mean, and the average kid does have a certain level of outside help or parent interaction to build on their lessons in school. Thanks to the opiate epidemic and poverty, not every kid has that.
Indeed, Hope Scholarships would help those who need it most, regardless of their needs. Consider the case of a foster kid, who has been shuffled between relative to relative all across the state. Maybe their reading isn’t up to par, or they are lacking self-confidence because they keep losing their friends. By offering connective and supportive services via these scholarships, we could mend these critical gaps.
An Example of How Hope Scholarships Work
Imagine if we allocated food stamps the same way we allocate school funding. Instead of letting families choose which combinations work for them in a given week, we would give money to stores to feed them, regardless of the specifics of each family. This would be costly and excessively regulated, and it would not give any practical say in the matter to the citizen being served.
Let me elaborate on this analogy a bit with an example. You and a family two blocks down the road live in different “food districts”, or even “consumption districts”. Instead of getting a check or a card to help you make the decisions that are best for your varied circumstances, you would be forced to get whatever the local Kroger allows. If you want the oat milk that Piggly Wiggly carries one district over? Tough luck.
Tragically, that is exactly the case with education for our most vulnerable citizens. Let’s stop putting low-income kids last, and let’s make education equitable for everyone. Our current system can’t do that but Hope Scholarships could.
Bradley Foster is the Community Engagement Associate for the Cardinal Institute for WV Policy.
*You can read the bill proposed to give Hope Scholarships to West Virginia’s kids on the legislature’s website.
*You can learn more about how Hope Scholarships would help ALL Mountaineers by reading more from our blog.