SB 125 (FY2020 Budget) — R00A03.05 - Funding for Educational Organizations – Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST)

Committee: Senate Budget & Taxation — Education, Business & Administration Subcommittee

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Scholarship Program allocation of $10 million, as included in the proposed FY2020 Operating Budget.  The Conference represents the interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.  We offer this testimony on behalf of the large number of low-income families attending Catholic schools statewide who receive BOOST scholarship assistance. 

The BOOST Scholarship Program provides expanded educational options for low-income students through the provision of scholarship assistance.  Scholarship recipients are certified through the State Department of Education (MSDE) and awarded through a BOOST Advisory Board, appointed by the General Assembly. 100% of scholarship recipients are eligible for the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Program (FARMs).       

Public school students are given significantly higher scholarship amounts.  In fact, the scholarship award ratio is approximately 3:1, being three scholarship dollars given to assist public school student transfers for every one dollar assisting low-income students already attending a nonpublic school. 

 Noteworthy highlights regarding scholarship awards made for the current school year are as follows:

 

  • BOOST scholarship-recipient families collectively had an average total household income of just $30,059.

 

  • Students attending schools in Baltimore City received the highest amount of total program scholarship awards (nearly 40% or just over $2.5 million), followed by students in Baltimore, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties (totaling approximately $2.85 million, collectively).

 

  • The majority of student-recipients (57%) were minorities.

 

  • The number of Latino student-recipients increased from approximately 350 to over 500.

 

  • 822 awards were made to students transferring from a public school. If scholarship award amounts were increased, we believe this could increase.  

 

  • 1,014 student-recipients were English Language Learners (ELLs), a significant increase from the 744 ELLs awarded in the previous school year. ELLs represent 32% of all scholarship recipients. 

 

  • Over $3.35 million in scholarship dollars, which represented the majority of program expenditures, were awarded to public school students for 2018-19. Additionally, we respectfully submit that any unallocated funds should be expended to help these students.

 

  • Students showed significant assessment proficiency across the board.

 

  • BOOST scholarship recipients live in 20 of the 24 Maryland counties and Baltimore City.

 

In all, the BOOST Scholarship Program has helped to make Catholic schools an option for so many families.  Over 1,730 student-recipients will attend a Catholic school this year, many having transferred from a public school.  The scholarship recipient demographic data cited above mirrors that of our school families in many Catholic schools, which welcome large numbers of low-income, immigrant and first-generation, minority, and non-Catholic students.            

The BOOST Scholarship Program has acted as an integral supplemental source of assistance to low-income Catholic school families, fostering a partnership between Catholic schools and the State of Maryland.  The data presented by MSDE thus exemplifies that BOOST scholarships are truly supplementing assistance to low-income students, as opposed to supplanting. MSDE data listed 2017-18 student-recipient non-BOOST aid at $4,535 per student.  For the 2018-19 school year, non-BOOST aid was listed at an average of well over $5,100 per student, representing a true partnership in providing educational options between nonpublic schools and the State of Maryland.

Our Catholic schools, where over 1,730 BOOST scholarship recipients have chosen to be educated, remain committed to working alongside the State of Maryland in providing options for these deserving students.  It is for these reasons, on behalf of the families empowered by BOOST scholarships to choose Catholic schools, that we urge this committee and the entire General Assembly to maintain and expand the BOOST program.