After nearly a decade of highly publicized financial and academic problems in the Baltimore City school system–plus academic achievement concerns in schools throughout the state–legislators in Maryland moved swiftly this winter to introduce legislation that would provide private school choice options to disadvantaged children statewide.
For the first time in the state’s history, a corporate scholarship tax credit bill–sponsored by Sen. Ed DeGrange (D-Glen Burnie)–passed the Maryland Senate, on a 30-17 vote in March.
The proposal, dubbed the Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers in Maryland (BOAST) bill, is similar to Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program. [See story on page 10.] If the bill passes, corporations will be able to donate up to $200,000 per year to school tuition organizations and will receive a 75 percent state income tax credit for their contributions.
The bill was scheduled for an April vote in the House of Delegates.
The program is capped at $5 million, $2 million of which would be set aside for contributions to public school programs.
Based on national scholarship averages, approximately 1,500 children or more could benefit from private school scholarships if the bill becomes law, said Anna Varghese Marcucio, a director of state projects at the national nonprofit Alliance for School Choice in Washington, DC.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which has expressed support for education reforms in the state, estimates 136,000 children already attend Maryland nonpublic schools, saving taxpayers $1.5 billion annually.
Several Maryland Democrats support the bill, and they strongly rebuffed claims by Maryland’s teachers union that it will harm public education.
State Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (D-Baltimore) reminded the Annapolis Capital on March 26 the legislature “help[s] all kinds of industries here with tax credits–big business, horse racing, biotech…. If you call [the bill] a sham, then I am shamming for children today.”
National news articles about Baltimore’s failing school system–which faced a $55 million deficit in 2003 and was nearly taken over by the state in 2006, and which parents gave a “D+” in a 2007 Baltimore Sun poll–likely generated unexpected support for the legislation.
“Parents throughout Maryland want change,” said Varghese Marcucio, who handles Maryland issues at the Alliance for School Choice. “They are sending a clear message to their elected officials that it doesn’t matter where they stand ideologically, it is unjust to allow children to continue to receive a subpar education. Parents want and deserve immediate options and are not willing to wait decades for a broken system to fix itself.”
The Maryland Catholic Conference echoed those sentiments.
“Public funds are consistently used to benefit private industry when those industries provide a public service,” the conference said in a late March statement. “Maryland offers tax benefits to the film, biotech, farming, and horseracing industries … because they offer a valuable contribution to the state. Nonpublic schools also have a public benefit.”
Andrew Campanella ([email protected]) is director of communications and marketing at the Alliance for School Choice in Washington, DC.
For more information …
Maryland SB 373: http://www.mdcathcon.org/boastmaryland