After ten years of advocacy, nonpublic school families and supporters were pleased this Tuesday when the 2016 state budget passed by the Maryland General Assembly included a $5 million allocation for nonpublic school scholarships. This year’s effort began, like in past years, with different proposals seeking to create a scholarship program funded by corporate donations in exchange for state tax credits. One notable difference in this year’s legislative effort was the unprecedented support of key House leaders who acknowledged the need for more educational options. The campaign took a promising turn in the waning weeks of the session when legislative leaders decided instead to fund the program using a direct allocation in the state budget as opposed to the original legislative model.
The new BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) program that was amended into the budget will provide scholarships to low income students (defined as those eligible for Free and Reduced Meals) to cover their tuition at an eligible nonpublic school. A school’s eligibility is determined mostly by meeting the same requirements found in the existing textbook and technology program and the aging school construction grant program. This includes a capped tuition amount among other criteria. The scholarships will be distributed in order of need, with the poorest families given priority until the full $5 million allocation is disbursed.
While the allocation for the Maryland program is on the smaller end of the other 24 school choice programs across the country, and has limited eligibility, it was warmly welcomed by the nonpublic school advocates who have toiled diligently over the years. Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland and president of Maryland Council for American Private Education (CAPE), said: “While this outcome is not exactly as we planned, we are glad to have finally crossed the threshold of school choice in Maryland. We look forward to playing an important role in ensuring the success of the BOOST program, with the hope of continuing the program for the future years and expanding the allocation to enable a maximum number of children to reap the benefits while attending the school of their choice.”