Maryland Republicans Propose New School Vouchers For Students Stuck At Home
Republican leaders in the Maryland House of Delegates, who are frustrated by students’ slow return to in-person learning, have proposed a new option for parents who are as frustrated as they are.
Under the plan, students whose schools do not reopen fully for in-person learning by the fall will be eligible for scholarships of up to $7,000 a year — intended to be equivalent to the amount the state spends per pupil in public schools — to be used toward tuition at private or parochial schools.
The bill, which has not yet been introduced but was described during a press conference Thursday, does not limit eligibility for the scholarships based on income.
“Ten minutes from my house, there have been students going to school full time, full capacity since August, just over the PA line, with no increase in community spread, so what's happened in Maryland has just been a dereliction of duty,” said Del. Lauren Arikan, who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. “We have really let down our most vulnerable students and asked them to carry the brunt of this pandemic, without any cause.”
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said he hopes schools reopen and the bill becomes moot.
“It's a way for us to say, look, if you don't get your acts together and get the schools open, you have the potential to losing per pupil funding in your school system,” Kipke said. “So it's a way of holding the school systems accountable.”
The delegates are also proposing other measures related to pandemic-induced educational challenges, including a $250-per-child tax credit for parents of students learning remotely.
Another bill would require schools to offer students with special needs certain in-person services, such as speech and language services; counseling; special education; nutritional services; and behavioral health, physical and occupational therapy even if schools remain closed.
“As a father of a child with autism, this has been a personal issue for me, said Del. Mike Griffith, who represents parts of Cecil and Harford counties. “This issue should transcend all the political division we've been experiencing and strikes right to the core of all of us as humans.”
Gov. Larry Hogan has threatened consequences for schools that do not offer in-person learning to all students by March 1.
However, in a letter sent Tuesday to Hogan and Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said many schools have not implemented the safety measures that both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health recommend to prevent outbreaks.
“No one wants to open school buildings safely and sustainably sooner than educators,” Bost wrote.