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Hope Scholarship Could Cost Ohio County Schools as Much as $500,000

photo by: Photo by Derek Redd

Ohio County Schools Superintendent Kim Miller discusses changes in books used in elementary curriculum at a February Ohio County Board of Education meeting at Wheeling Park High School.

WHEELING – Applications for Hope Scholarships in West Virginia have been submitted to the state, and the end result could cost Ohio County Schools over $500,000 – and maybe the eventual loss of enrollment and teachers.

The deadline to apply for the Hope Scholarship was Monday, and applications were received on behalf of 118 students in Ohio County Schools, according to Superintendent Kim Miller. This is the fourth highest among the state’s school districts, she added. Kanawha, Berkeley and Raleigh counties had more applicants.

The family of each student eventually approved for the scholarship will receive $4,298.60 to put toward establishing an account and crafting “an individualized learning experience” for their child. Among other things, the money can be used for tuition fees at private or parochial schools.

But the money paid out to a student for a Hope Scholarship is subtracted from the yearly state aid funding a county school district receives.

As such, if all 118 applications are approved in Ohio County, that would result in a financial loss to Ohio County Schools of $507,234.80

Ohio County Schools received $18,491,629 in state aid for fiscal year 2022, according to Steven Bieniek, business manager for Ohio County Schools. The school district’s annual budget is about $71 million.

“We are trying to protect every funding dollar possible,” Miller said. “This is just another obstacle for public education. We need to watch this.”

Comparatively speaking, other counties in the Northern Panhandle saw far fewer Hope Scholarship applications.

In Hancock County, there were 25 submitted; in Marshall County, 15; Tyler County, six; and Wetzel County, one.

“It’s because we have so many educational opportunities in Ohio County – public, private and parochial,” Miller said of Ohio County’s larger total. “We live in a competitive community educationally.”

Miller and Bieniek pointed out many of the applicants likely are incoming kindergarten students who have not yet been in Ohio County Schools or any other. Older students applying for the Hope Scholarship must be a current public school student in the county where they reside, or they must first enroll in public school for a 45 day period to become eligible.

Ohio County Schools will receive full funding for students enrolled in the school district as of Oct. 1, Bieniek explained. State funding based on student enrollment runs one year behind, he continued.

The bottom line is Ohio County Schools is expected to have a downturn in enrollment resulting from the Hope Scholarship, and that could mean a reduction in educators across the district, according to Miller.

“We will be taking a close look at staffing, if enrollment declines,” she said.

Ohio County Board of Education President David Croft, both an attorney and accountant, said funding of the Hope Scholarships in the coming years will have a significant impact on the school district “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars” annually over the coming years.

“This year, we don’t have a line item for what it will cost schools,” he explained. “But next year there will be a line item to show the projected loss.

“There is a carryover each year, but we will have to be extremely cautious. We ill have to absorb these losses. We will look at our budget, and see where cuts can be made.”

Bieniek advised the school district should first wait to see how financial numbers look in the next couple of years before making any decisions.

Other county school superintendents believe Ohio County won’t be the only school district that will lose a sizeable chunk of funding.

“There are a lot of counties across the state that are going to be hit by the lack of enrollment, funding the Hope Scholarship will cause,” said Marshall County Schools Superintendent Shelby Haines.

Tyler County Schools Superintendent Shane Highley added school districts with higher numbers of Hope Scholarship students would be most affected.

“Maybe it won’t affect counties like us, but it could larger counties,” he said.

In addition to tuition and fees for private schools, Hope Scholarship money can be put toward non-public online programs or alternative education programs such as speech therapy and technology.

It can be used to pay for activities, courses and programs provided by public schools, tutoring services or fees for standardized or advanced placement exams and preparation courses.

Educational services and therapies are covered by the scholarship, as are supplies, textbooks and transportation fees

To qualify for the Hope Scholarship, a student must be a West Virginia resident and be either:

– Eligible to be enrolled in a kindergarten program

– Enrolled full-time in a public elementary or secondary school program in this state for the entire instructional term during the 2021-2022 current academic year immediately preceding the academic year for which the student is applying to participate in the Hope Scholarship Program.

– Enrolled full-time and attending a public elementary or secondary school program in this state for at least 45 calendar days during an instructional term at the time of application.

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