February 14, 2018 Print

The Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, an Atlas Network partner based in West Virginia, has made significant progress in promoting school choice policy in the state. With numerous appearances in local and out-of-state media, and policy support from West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, the Cardinal Institute has helped push West Virginia one step closer to adopting a system of school choice.

West Virginia is one of only a handful of states that do not have any school choice system in place. While a variety of methods exist to accomplish greater degrees of school choice, such as tax credits, vouchers, and education savings accounts, West Virginia has yet to adopt any of them.

“West Virginia is one of a few states that have no form of choice, whether it be vouchers, charter schools, magnet schools, tax credit scholarships, or education savings accounts,” says the Cardinal Institute’s executive director Garrett Ballengee. “Our results are abysmal, and frankly, the state is mortgaging the futures of its children due to the tyranny of the status quo and reluctance to try something different. It’s been an interesting policy area to work on, because we’ve found opponents in places and institutions we were not expecting. However, we’ve also been able to find allies in unforeseen places, as well. We’ve come across the boilerplate arguments from those content – and benefiting from – the status quo, so we’re happily taking those on.”

Since December 2017, the Cardinal Institute has been promoting education policy reform on a multitude of media platforms. Jessi Troyan, development director at the Cardinal Institute, has been a guest on West Virginia public radio show The Front Porch, and has written an opinion piece in the Charleston Gazette-Mail arguing for school choice as a solution to the problem of lack of college preparedness among West Virginia high school graduates.

The Cardinal Institute’s work to promote school choice was on full display during National School Choice Week. It co-hosted a school choice event in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, with fellow Atlas Network partners Americans for Prosperity and EdChoice. This event was featured in local television news in Hagerstown, Maryland, as well as in news outlets in West Virginia. Along with this event, the Cardinal Institute also participated in the West Virginia Christian Education Association’s Christian School Day in Charleston. This event was attended by over 200 students, parents, and school faculty from around the state. The governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, was also in attendance and praised the quality of education provided by these institutions. 

Beyond education policy, the Cardinal Institute has had success in other areas of policy, such as tort law reform and right-to-work. According to Cardinal’s Executive Director Garrett Ballengee, “West Virginia did not become an economic backwater overnight, and the issues holding our state back are numerous. With that in mind, it does leave the Cardinal Institute with a target-rich environment for reform. Over the last three years, West Virginia has taken some huge steps in reforming its laws to allow for greater economic and worker freedom. The tort system routinely landed West Virginia on the list of ‘judicial hellholes’ and was well-known for bias against business interests; the system was reformed in a substantial way in 2015. West Virginia also became the nation’s 26th right-to-work in 2016 and Cardinal was a major voice in that debate. It was especially uplifting because no one ever thought West Virginia – home of the United Mine Workers – would ever become a right-to-work state. Cardinal was able to demonstrate the power of information, education, and intellectual capital on policy debates in a very hostile environment.”