Maryland lawmakers will return to Annapolis today, facing crucial decisions for parents and children. Among them is how they will continue to address calls from parents who want more education options and from those who want to escape the state’s failing schools.
In 2022, 23 Baltimore public district schools did not have a single student who was proficient in math. At one high school, 77 percent of students tested at an elementary school reading level. In a recent education report card, Maryland ranked 40th out of 51 states in its combined fourth-grade and eighth-grade math and reading scores. Parents have also sued the city of Baltimore and Baltimore Public Schools because of what they view as a significant failure in educating children, coupled with a substantial misuse of taxpayer funds.
The solution to that problem? Preserving scholarship funding for BOOST, Maryland’s sole private school choice program.
Having successfully preserved the BOOST program through bipartisan work last year after Governor Wes Moore tried to cut funding, lawmakers now have the opportunity to solidify its permanence and address the growing demand from parents within the state. Ahead of the 2023-2024 school year, the program faced a surge in applicants and needed double the amount of funding than previously appropriated to meet parents’ demands. This is particularly pertinent considering the findings in a recent report, which underscores the cost savings for the state, the substantial demand for BOOST scholarships among parents, and the broader benefits that education choice policies can bring families.
As we delve into the transformative impact of BOOST Scholarships on individual lives, the stories of appreciative parents further highlight the program’s positive influence. Nefertari Lee, whose two sons recently graduated from Calvert Hall College High School in Towson with the help of BOOST Scholarships, attended the rally and said this about the program, “I believe in school choice, and BOOST gives these children opportunities that will help them later in life.” She later went on to say that BOOST is “an ‘invaluable program’ and a ‘lifeline’ that ‘changes lives’ and helps children thrive. ”
A grandparent, Sherry, whose three grandsons are receipts of the program, said, “My grandsons have grown leaps and bounds at Calvary Christian Academy… We live in a rural area where the [local public] school has closed, so it is detrimental they [can] have this BOOST program…Our kids deserve a chance to be in the best environment for their situation…” report4ed The Baltimore Sun. Rabbi Yochman Stengel, the high school principal of Bnos Yisroel, an orthodox Jewish School for girls in Baltimore, said the BOOST program offers vital assistance to hardworking parents. He said, “This [the BOOST program] is huge; it literally allows schools to keep these children who otherwise would not be able to pay the tuition fees.”
There are numerous benefits to families in adopting education choice policies, some of which are allowing access to safer learning environments, creating accountability among schools, empowering parents to select learning environments that align with their values, and increasing academic achievement and attainment among students.
When lawmakers return to the state capitol today, there are four simple ways they can meet the demand of parents who want better and more robust education options for their children: secure BOOST’s permanence and increase funding to meet current demand, shift the funding model to be based on the state per-pupil allocation, convert the program into an Education Savings Account (ESA), and expand program eligibility to students of all income backgrounds.
Integrating BOOST scholarships into the state’s K-12 funding formula, rather than a separate appropriation, would streamline processes, reduce political fluctuations, and ensure a fairer distribution of funds, particularly benefiting students with special needs compared to Maryland public and charter schools. It would also cement education freedom as a permanent facet of what the state of Maryland has to offer families and children.
Converting the scholarship into an ESA offers families flexibility and allows them to choose more than one education option or service at a time for their child. For example, they could pay for textbooks, online classes, educational therapy, and private school tuition, all with their ESA. Furthermore, removing income restrictions promotes universality, allowing families from various backgrounds to access the program and fostering increased engagement from private schools and the broader community.
By securing BOOST’s permanence, adjusting the funding model, and expanding eligibility, lawmakers have the opportunity to enhance the program’s impact, providing greater educational options and support for families across the state.