March 10, 2010

Private school aid credit held up over concern about disabled

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

A bill giving businesses tax breaks for donating to private school scholarships hit a speed bump on the Senate floor Wednesday, as a senator expressed concerns about access for children with developmental disabilities.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, held discussion of the bill until Thursday so that she could prepare an amendment that would try to ensure that special needs children have access to private schooling.

The Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland tax credit (BOAST), would allow businesses to recoup 75 percent of their donations to need-based scholarships for private school students or other nonpublic educational programs.

“In private schools, they have the right to deny any student they want,” Conway said. “My primary issue with the bill is that most of the time developmentally disabled students are extremely expensive … the private students don’t like to take those kinds of students. If we’re going to use tax dollars, then you’re going to have to take those same students that are admissible in public schools.”

But a motion to hold the bill didn’t stop Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, from decrying the bill’s merit.

“The League of Women Voters just sent me an e-mail, in which they called this bill ‘a private school voucher bill in disguise,’ and I think that really does sum it up,” Kelley said. “It is a terrible bill. It needs some help.”

Gov. Martin O’Malley has backed the proposal, and said Wednesday that he hopes lawmakers will recognize that the bill won’t result in a large amount of money being diverted from public schools. The bill, as introduced, doesn’t put aside any money for the coming year. He pointed to the recently-announced closure of 13 Catholic schools as an impetus to get the bill passed.

“The cost to the public school system of Maryland, the cost to the state, the cost to the counties from those closures or from private schools going belly up and never coming back in these tough times is a lot more than whatever little bit of money goes to the BOAST program,” O’Malley said.