Committee: House Ways and Means
The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony on behalf of the families of approximately 50,000 students served by more than 150 PreK-12 Catholic schools in Maryland in OPPOSITION to House Bill 295. The Conference represents the public policy 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.
Despite the stringent nondiscrimination protections already placed in state programs for nonpublic schools and students, House Bill 295 seeks to add an all-encompassing array of requirements on all nonpublic schools. The majority of states in the U.S. provide assistance for nonpublic school students and families. However, no other state program in the country requires nonpublic schools to comply with requirements such as those included in House Bill 295. Moreover, since 1965, the federal Elementary and Secondary School Act (n/k/a the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA) has provided for the equitable inclusion of nonpublic school students in federal education programs without imposing government regulations like those promulgated by House Bill 295.
This legislation is a clear attempt to prevent schools’ participation in state programs and deprive children, many of them from very low-income families, of the benefits thereof. This bill is detrimental to more than 80,000 of the 120,000 preK-12 nonpublic school students in the state whose schools are eligible for the longstanding Nonpublic Student Textbook Program, and more than 180 schools that participate in the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program. To even greater detriment, the bill would effectively take away scholarships from over 3,100 FARMs-eligible, low-income, state scholarship recipients, the majority of who are minorities.
House Bill 295 would eliminate religious freedom and conscience-protection exemptions afforded to religious organizations in State law that have been in place for decades. In doing so, this bill makes the receipt of state funds by a nonpublic faith-based school, and their students, contingent on adherence to limitations that they have never had historically. Additionally, while nonpublic schools, and Catholic schools in particular, make every effort to best serve students with special education needs, they do so in their own unique and autonomous way, considering what is best for the needs of the child. To require every nonpublic school to accommodate in the exact manner that the state does, with a lack of funding to support the services necessary to accommodate those students, is blatantly unjust and further compounds the aim of this bill to gut benefits for nonpublic schools, students and families. Lastly, this bill would label Catholic, Jewish and Muslim schools as “discriminatory” if they were to start a new all-boys or all-girls school, as they would have to be “grandfathered” in to do so.
For each of the aforementioned reasons, we urge you to report unfavorably on House Bill 295.