SEABROOK – In the same week that Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Chief Executive Officer Kevin Maxwell announced his proposed budget, seeking more investment in the public school system, Gov. Larry Hogan announced his plans to put more state money toward private schools.
On Dec. 13, at a private school in Baltimore, Hogan announced his intent to double the funding for private school vouchers over the next three years. Last year Hogan, in partnership with the Maryland General Assembly, passed a bill to launch the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program with an initial funding amount of $5 million.
“Our administration has made education our number one priority, and we are working hard to ensure that every single child in Maryland is given the chance for a great education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said.
The BOOST program helps low-income families pay for their students to attend non-public schools by providing scholarships to students. When the program started, BOOST had an advisory board that determined the criteria for eligible students and the schools the students could attend. That board also set the scholarship amount.
During the inaugural year BOOST received more than 5,000 applications statewide, from which more than 3,000 were approved for the program.
Hogan believes the overwhelming response shows a need for further investment in the program.
“This year, we will again be funding the BOOST program, and we will be doubling the total funding over the next three years to $10 million in scholarships by Fiscal Year 2020,” he said.
Although Hogan has made his intentions clear, and believes in the BOOST program, some in the public school realm believe the move is a step in the wrong direction. Especially when the public school system in Maryland, inspite of gains, requires new investments to further programs and address a backlog of capital improvements needs.
Maryland State Educators Association (MSEA) President Betty Weller called Hogan’s plan a “Trump-like initiative” that would send Maryland taxpayer money away from public schools to private schools.
“According to independent experts, Maryland’s public schools currently have $2.9 billion less than what they need to help every child succeed,” she said. “Our kids rely on strong neighborhood public schools to prepare them for a college education and stable career, and we have a moral obligation to fill those equity gaps.”
While $5 million over three years may be a drop in the bucket for the state’s budget, MSEA sees the investment in BOOST as a redirection of funds from the public school system. Weller called the BOOST program wasteful and said the General Assembly should stand with public schools by eliminating the program.
“Maryland educators are deeply frustrated by Gov. Hogan’s proposal to drain twice as many resources from our public schools to subsidize private schools. The governor’s alliance with President-elect Donald Trump – who has proposed the idea of using $20 billion in taxpayer money for private school vouchers – on privatizing our public schools should be alarming to every Marylander who believes in the importance of public education,” Weller said.
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, III shared similar thoughts, urging Gov. Hogan to reinvest in the public school system rather than on private school vouchers.
“Gov. Hogan’s proposal to spend $10 million on private school vouchers sends the wrong message about Maryland’s commitment to a great public education for every child,” Baker said in a statement. “Our public schools serve students from every neighborhood, every socioeconomic group, and every race, religion, gender and learning level. Instead of diverting money away from students who need it most, I urge Gov. Hogan to reinvest in Maryland’s public schools.”
In Prince George’s County, Maxwell just proposed a $2.05 billion schools budget, and while that budget will be looked at by both the county board of education and the county council, the budget asks for a large increase in state funding.
This year’s proposal requests more than $1.12 billion from the state, which is more than $33 million more than the previous year, and a move like Hogan’s may cast doubt on how far the state is willing to go to see improvements in local public school systems.
“Diverting public funds towards private school vouchers is the wrong approach. Now is the time to increase on our investment in public schools so that every student receives the 21st-century education they deserve,” Baker said.
Still, the state received more than 5,000 applications for the program, which specifically targets “areas with under-performing schools,” showing that there is interest in the program.
Ultimately, the General Assembly will decide the fate of the funds.
via Prince George’s County sentinel