By Ralph E. Moore Jr.,
Special to the AFRO
Students from some 200 area schools spent time in Annapolis on March 2, protesting cuts to a program that for years has allowed their parents to keep them in the school of their choice.
Since 2016, Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Scholarship Program (BOOST Program), which was supported and signed into law by former Maryland governor Larry Hogan, has offered the state’s families with limited incomes access to scholarships. The program provides scholarships for students who qualify for the Free or Reduced-Price Meals program (FARMS). Awards are made based on household income. The households with the lowest incomes are served first by the program.
Just two years after the program started, during the 2018-2019 fiscal school year, the State of Maryland allocated $7.6 million for BOOST scholarships. 3,410 students participated that school year from about 176 participating schools.
More up to date information can be obtained from the BOOST Program’s website. BOOST, for the 2021-2022 school year, had :
- 3,268 recipients
- $35,488 average household income
- 100 percent FARMs* eligibility
- 56 percent persons of color
- 1,030 English-language learners
- 21 of 23 counties + Baltimore City
According to the Maryland State Department of Education’s website, 20,000 scholarships have been changing lives since 2016.
The BOOST Program began as a somewhat modest endeavor, with only a fraction of the number of scholarships today. “Every child deserves access to a world-class education,” said Hogan at the time. “Our administration is proud to support a program that is a much-needed step in the right direction to provide expanded opportunities for students across the state.”
That was then. But there’s a new governor in town with different ideas.
That’s why students from private schools around Maryland protested at the State House on March 2, calling on Gov. Wes Moore and state lawmakers to preserve funding to the tuition program. The BOOST program gives students from low-income families scholarships to attend private and religious schools and there’s the rub. Moore has proposed cutting 20 percent of the program with plans to eliminate it once the 3,200 students currently enrolled in the program graduate. That means $2,000,000 fewer for fiscal year 2024 for starters.
At a press conference the same day the students were protesting outside the state house, Moore said in speaking about BOOST, “Public dollars should not be going to private schools. Public dollars are going toward ensuring that we’re building a world-class public school system for all Maryland students.”
Has this become another case of either-or thinking? Can funding continue to be available for public and non-public schools? Afterall, citizens who send their children to non-public schools pay state taxes that support the public schools their children do not attend. Wouldn’t it be fair to continue to let some low income children have an otherwise unreachable private school experience? And even though private educational institutions do not pay state (property or sales) taxes, their operations reduce the number of children that state government would be responsible for educating by federal and state law.
Hearing news of the proposed cuts to the BOOST Program, Republicans said the money helps low-income students and parents and represents a small part of what is spent on public schools.
Democrats and teachers’ union leaders argue the program takes money away from public schools.
The Eastern Shore Del. Jefferson Ghist, a Republican, is sponsoring a bill entitled the Right to Learn Act that would require $10 million be in the budget year after year for the BOOST Program. With the Democrats holding a supermajority in both houses of the General Assembly and no Democrats expressing support for the bill, it is not likely to pass in this session.
Sister Rita Michelle Proctor, OSP, superior general of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, on the day before she headed down to Annapolis to testify on behalf of the BOOST program, expressed the hope that the focus is always kept on the needs of children whenever and wherever budgets are debated and discussed. That is a lesson from a religious woman well worth learning by all of us: Save the children, whatever we do!