By George Matysek
Catholic Review (Baltimore)
As the legislative session in Annapolis nears its conclusion, lawmakers have struck a deal to keep alive a scholarship program that helps children from low-income families attend Catholic and other nonpublic schools in Maryland.
Leading lawmakers in the General Assembly agreed March 31 to fund the BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) Scholarship program at $9 million – $1 million more than had been proposed by Gov. Wes Moore, but $1 million less than last year.
They eliminated budgetary language included by the Democratic governor that would have phased out the program by limiting future recipients to current BOOST scholars and their siblings.
Lawmakers also added $2.5 million in the budget for nursing and school security at BOOST-participating schools.
Separately, public schools will benefit from an infusion of $900 million to support the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” aimed at improving public education.
“We are incredibly grateful for the continued funding of the BOOST program and also for removing any kind of phase-out language,” said Dr. Donna Hargens, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. “That means our students – and new students – will be able to apply to the program and access Catholic education with the support of the BOOST scholarship.”
In the Diocese of Wilmington, the Catholic Schools Office reports 49 students receive $130,300 in BOOST funding this year.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat and a leading BOOST supporter, was a key negotiator on funding the program. In a March 31 news conference, he hailed robust state spending on public schools while also highlighting funding for BOOST.
Maryland must have a “great system of public schools,” Ferguson said, which helps the state be “economically competitive.”
“And we also have the opportunity to invest in institutions and, most importantly, into parents and to children so that they have the opportunity and the advantage to be able to maximize their potential in a different environment should that be their choice,” he said.
The senate president introduced representatives from area nonpublic schools including Gregory Butler, an eighth-grade student at Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in Baltimore, and Nefertari Lee, whose two sons received a Catholic education at Calvert Hall College High School in Towson with the help of BOOST scholarships.
Lee said her passion is to make sure parents are aware of the program and continue to apply.
She called BOOST an “invaluable program” and a “lifeline” that “changes lives” and helps children thrive.
Garrett O’Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, noted that members of the Maryland BOOST Scholarship Coalition and the Catholic Advocacy Network worked hard in support of the BOOST program.
“The thousands of emails and calls they made in support of BOOST, along with students who lobbied their elected officials during Non-Public School Advocacy Day, made a big difference,” O’Day said.
Hargens, the Baltimore Catholic schools superintendent, said it will be important for advocates to continue inviting lawmakers to visit nonpublic schools to see for themselves the impact BOOST has on lives.
“Sometimes we think of numbers on a page,” Hargens said, “but you have to talk to who benefits from the expenditure and from the opportunity to apply for a BOOST scholarship.”
Nonpublic school advocates had worked unsuccessfully this year to codify BOOST into law to prevent the program from annual budgetary wrestling matches. Hargens hopes those efforts will be renewed next legislative session.
“If it was in law, then we wouldn’t have to continue to advocate for it – it would be guaranteed,” said Hargens, noting that many Catholic school families could not afford Catholic education without BOOST. “We’ve already started thinking of how we can reach out in the next legislative session. Certainly, we welcome legislators to come to our schools to speak to our students, our parents and our administrators.”
In the 2021-22 academic year, there were 3,268 BOOST scholarship recipients. Their average household income was $35,488 and 56 percent were from minority communities. All were eligible for free or reduced lunches.
In the Archdiocese of Baltimore, there are more than 700 BOOST scholarship recipients this year at archdiocesan and independent Catholic schools.
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org