Maryland GOP gripes over $2M shortfall for private school vouchers under Moore, fear cancellation
Ana Carvajal testified virtually before lawmakers during a Wednesday hearing in Annapolis. Carvajal is a mother of two children who works full-time.
She pleaded with House delegates about the importance of a state school voucher program that enables her children to attend private school. The program, known as Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, or BOOST, was enacted in 2016.
“The BOOST program has opened the door for my daughter, and so many other kids,“ Carvajal said.
Her 6-year-old daughter Mariana has earned academic evaluations above the national average, she testified. Such a school would be otherwise unavailable for her family due to financial hardship, she said.
In the past seven years, about 20,000 students have received scholarships to state-approved private and parochial schools that agree not to discriminate against students based on race, color, national origin or sexual orientation.
Democratic Gov. Wes Moore has allocated $8 million for the program, for fiscal year 2024. His predecessor Republican Gov. Larry Hogan allocated $10 million during the last budget cycle. Back in 2016, then-Gov. Hogan had earmarked $5 million, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The Joint Republican Caucus, made up of both minority members of the Maryland House and Senate, claims that the $2 million difference this year “[traps] low-income families in failing schools with limited options.”
“If we are going to end childhood poverty in Maryland,“ said Del. Jeff Ghrist, the bill’s lead sponsor. “We have to give the children living in poverty more lifelines when it comes to their futures. The BOOST program is such a lifeline for these families.”
On the campaign trail, Moore told The Baltimore Banner he would seek to eliminate the BOOST program.
Del. Ghrist introduced legislation on Wednesday afternoon that would fully fund and stop the expected phase-out of the BOOST program. Ghrist says doing so would make school choice a possibility for all parents, not just wealthy ones.
But not everyone supports the legislation.
The Maryland State Education Association, the statewide teachers union, has been a fierce critic of the program.
The association advocates instead for taxpayer money to be used for schools with high poverty rates, hiring substitute teachers and retaining staff in districts with high turnover.
“The BOOST private school voucher program has been highly controversial since its inception and diverts attention and resources from the real needs of our students and public school communities,” said Samantha Zwerling, managing director of political and legislative affairs for the Maryland State Education Association.
Maryland Republicans said their support for the private school voucher program doesn’t negate any traditional public school funding programs or the major state investment of The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future which requires $3.8 billion of state funding each year for a 10-year stretch.
House Minority Leader, Jason Buckel defended the proposed legislation as one way to support the education system statewide.
“To guarantee our children get an education that will lead to productive futures as adults, every option should be on the table,” Buckel said. “We shouldn't disregard things because of political ideas.”
BOOST PROGRAM STATS
- 3,268 students received scholarships
- The average household income of BOOST families was $35,488
- 100% of students qualified for free and reduced meals
- 56% were students of color
- 1,030 were English language learners
- 247 were special education students
- Students came from 21 of 23 counties and Baltimore City
Source: BOOST report for 2021-2022 school year, January 2023