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HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS FILL ANNAPOLIS FOR NONPUBLIC SCHOOLS ADVOCACY DAY

Hundreds of students from Catholic and other nonpublic schools across Maryland gathered in Annapolis on March 4 to advocate for programs that serve the state's nonpublic schools. 

Hosted by the Maryland chapter of the Council for American Private Education (Maryland CAPE) together with the Maryland Catholic Conference, Nonpublic Schools Advocacy allows students from Maryland's nonpublic schools to advocate for programs like the BOOST Scholarship Program and the Nonpublic Aging Schools program, which respectively, provide scholarships to low-income students and infrastructure funding to aging school buildings.

"Seeing Annapolis filled with students from our Catholic and other nonpublic schools is a strong reminder to the legislators that it is their constituents — students in their district — who are served by programs like BOOST," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Conference, and vice-president of Maryland CAPE. "This year, education has been a central focus of the work in Annapolis, and it was great to see so many students here to show our legislature the diversity of education in our state and why those options are so important."

Students started the day at a rally with Governor Larry Hogan and a bipartisan group of legislative champions, before meeting with individual district representatives about how Maryland can, and why it should, continue to support its nonpublic schools. 

To view more pictures from the day, check out Gov. Hogan's Flickr.

 

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2020 U.S. Census: Be counted!

Starting in March, Marylanders will be asked to take part in the 2020 U.S. Census, and the Church is encouraging everyone to participate. 

Every ten years, the U.S. Constitution requires the federal government to take a count of everyone living in the country. The 2020 count will begin in March. 

"The Census has a profound impact on the shape of our government and our communities by helping define everything from our state's representation in Congress, to funding for programs, such as those that serve our most vulnerable and that keep us safe," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "It is important that each of us do our part by completing the Census and encouraging others to do so as well." 

Census forms will be mailed to each household starting mid-March and the deadline to respond is July 31, 2020. The form asks important information such as number of people living in the home and each person's demographic information. It does not include a question about citizenship. 

The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of caring for the most vulnerable in our society. While individual Catholics and Catholic organizations have a responsibility to address local needs, government programs and funding also play a role in combatting poverty, educating children, and providing support for the vulnerable. In Fiscal Year 2016, Maryland received more than $16 billion through federal programs that used 2010 census data to determine our state's allocation. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops outlined the significance of an accurate Census by stating that: “The Catholic Church and other service providers rely on the national Census to provide an accurate count in order to effectively serve those in need. We urge for all people to be counted in the Census, regardless of their citizenship…Our society, rooted in the strength of the family, cannot risk missing this opportunity to give children and parents the tools they need to succeed.”

To learn more about the Census and to download resources, visit: www.mdcatholic.org/2020census.

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Dozens testify, turnout in opposition to physician-assisted suicide

Dozens of people wearing nearly every shade of green crammed into the Judicial Proceedings wing of the Miller Senate building in Annapolis on Friday, Feb. 28 to oppose the proposed physician-assisted suicide bill (SB 701), also known as the "End of Life Options Act."

More than 40 people testified against the bill, expressing opposition to the risks posed by legalizing assisted suicide, the bill's lack of safeguards for vulnerable populations, its direct affront to medical ethics, and more. Dozens more attended the hearing to stand in solidarity with the many communities who the bill puts at grave risk — including those with disabilities, veterans, the elderly and those struggling with prescription drug addiction — in opposition to its advancing. The Senate had to provide an overflow room to accommodate the vast number of people who attended the hearing.

"The large number of people who came on Friday to testify or simply stand up against the 'End of Life Options Act' is a testament to just how dangerous this bill is for Maryland and how many Marylanders do not want to see it become the law of our state," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. "We are grateful to everyone who took the time to come to Annapolis and show the large, powerful opposition to assisted suicide. Your voices were heard!" 

For those who were unable to attend the hearing or to testify, the Conference — together with the Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide Coalition — encourages everyone to send their Maryland State Senator a message in opposition to the bill. To send a message CLICK HERE. 

As of March 2, the House of Delegates has not scheduled a hearing on its version of the bill, HB 643. Both chambers only have until March 16 to consider and pass legislation out of their chamber and over to the other chamber for consideration. In order for a bill to become law in Maryland, it must be passed by both chambers of the General Assembly. . 

To follow along with the issue and receive any action alerts, please CLICK HERE to join the Catholic Advocacy Network. 

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Maryland Catholic Conference supports bill to protect foreign workers

The Maryland Catholic Conference has again supported legislation that would protect foreign laborers who come to our state from trafficking and exploitation, offering testimony in support of SB 742, the "Fair Recruitment and Transparency Act."

Every year thousands of workers with what are known as "H-2 visas" arrive in Maryland to do everything from farm work, to crab-picking and landscaping. Those workers often face abuse, fraud and coercion from recruiters and others who put them at risk for trafficking and exploitation. 

"Many people come to Maryland through visa programs that allow them to work here for certain amounts of time and far too many end up exploited in that process," said Anne Wallerstedt, associate director of Social and Economic Justice for the Conference. "Sadly, it is far too common for a worker's terms of employment to be misrepresented, for contractors to charge exorbitant fees that put these workers in debt bondage and in other situations that can reach to the severity of labor trafficking, and workers to end up living in deplorable conditions as a result."

The Catholic Church strongly opposes human trafficking because it disregards the dignity of human life. Although anti-human trafficking efforts often focus on sex trafficking, the Church reminds us to turn our attention to labor trafficking that is very prevalent in the United States as well. 

The Church supports the "Fair Recruitment and Transparency Act" because it would protect workers from labor trafficking by:

  • Prohibiting discrimination in recruitment, hiring, and job assignments; 
  • Banning recruitment fees to prevent workers from arriving indebted and more vulnerable to coercive labor conditions; and
  • Requiring the licensing of recruiters and the creation of a registry to ensure workers know who they are working with.

The bill also calls for a state workgroup to study the J-1 Summer Work Travel program in Maryland. Workers under this program often work and live under deplorable conditions. 

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State to start accepting BOOST Scholarship applications as early as this week

As soon as this week, the Maryland Department of Education will start accepting applications for BOOST Scholarships (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Scholarship Program) for the 2020-21 school year.

Each year, the state gives about 6 weeks for families to apply for a BOOST Scholarship for the coming school year. Last year, the state started accepting applications in February.

"We expect the state to start taking applications any day now," said Garrett O'Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference."Demand for the BOOST Scholarship program grew by more than 25 percent last year and many students remain on a waiting list. So it's important for families to be ready when the application period opens."

Eligibility for a scholarship is based on financial need. For a full list of requirements, CLICK HERE.

The Conference has been a strong supporter of the BOOST Scholarship Program since it was created by the General Assembly in 2016. Since 2016, the program has awarded more than 10,000 scholarships to low-income families, empowering those families to choose Catholic or other nonpublic school for their children. The average qualifying family made $32,999 in 2018. 

For the 2020-21 school year, the state is considering increasing funding for BOOST to $10 million, up from about $7.5 million for the current school year. 

The Conference is encouraging anyone who might be interested in applying to sign up for the Maryland BOOST Scholarship Coalition's Action Network so they will be the first to know when it is time to apply. The Conference is a member of the Maryland BOOST Scholarship Coalition. To join the BOOST Scholarship Coalition Action Network CLICK HERE.

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Parents, Students testify in support of BOOST

Left to right: Maria Del Cid, Samuel Amaya Del Cid, Sara Habte, and Bethel Yosef. 

 

Parents and students who participate in the BOOST Scholarship Program testified in both the House and Senate committees, sharing their stories of how BOOST has impacted their lives. 

"BOOST gives students the chance at accessing something different," said Nefretari Lee, mother of a BOOST student at Calvert Hall High School in Baltimore City and representative of the BOOST Parent Ambassador Network. "It gives them the chance to thrive and to succeed in an environment that is conducive to learning. My personal belief is that we break down the barriers to social, economic and racial divide through education and information and BOOST helps parents and families do that."

Lee testified on Feb. 24 before the Senate Budget & Taxation subcommittee on Education, Business and Administration.

Maryland created the BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities Today) Scholarship Program in 2016 and it has since provided more than 10,000 scholarships to low-income families to empower them to choose the best educational option for their children. For the 2020-21 school year, the state has proposed to increase funding for the program to $10 million. 

Bethel Yosef, 10, a 5th grader at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring, also testified on Feb. 24. Bethel told the subcommittee that she came to Saint Francis in second grade thanks to a BOOST scholarship, which helps her mother, an Ethiopian immigrant to afford their education. Her younger brother is also a BOOST recipient, she said. 

"I want to thank you for the BOOST scholarship and ask you to keep it going for kids like me and my brother," Bethel testified 

Samuel Amay Del Cid, 14, an 8th grader at Saint Francis International School, testified that he also transferred to Saint Francis from public school thanks to a BOOST scholarship.

"I love Saint Francis. I wish I could have started there earlier," he told the subcommittee. Samuel, whose parents emigrated to the United States from El Salvador, said he hopes to attend Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park in the fall, which the BOOST scholarship would enable his family to afford.

"The BOOST Scholarship has opened opportunities for me, my brother and many other students like me at Saint Francis, and many other nonpublic schools throughout Maryland," he testified. "I want to thank you for helping to make these opportunities possible. I encourage you to keep funding the BOOST scholarships so that kids can have the experience I had." 

Maryland has kept the BOOST program level-funded for the past two years. However, demand this year increased by 25 percent, leaving hundreds of students on a waiting list for scholarships.

"BOOST is not an option, it should be an obligation to every family that qualifies and seeks something different," Lee said. 

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Marylanders march for life

For more than 40 years, Marylanders have gathered in the streets of Annapolis to march for life, and this year, hundreds gathered on Feb. 24 for the annual event. 

Similar to the national March for Life, the Maryland March for Life seeks to address the state's stance on abortion and other important life issues, including rights for persons with disabilities and those facing the end of life.

"Maryland has some of the most permissive abortion laws in the United States, but there is hope because the cause of life is gaining momentum here," said Jenny Kraska, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, which participated in the event and advocates for all life in Maryland. "For the last several years, advocates have successfully defeated efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide, have passed stronger laws to protect pregnant women from violence, and continue to fight for the rights of pre-born children. The Church continues to advocate on behalf of all life — the poor, the sick, the unborn, the elderly, those seeking refuge in our country, and those with disabilities — and a day when Maryland values each human life with equal respect and dignity." 

The March began with a mass and service at St. Mary's Parish in Annapolis before participants were scheduled to march up Main Street to near the State House, where they were to hold a rally. 

To learn more about the Maryland March for Life visit: www.mdmarchforlife.com

 

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Maryland Catholic Conference supports the Time to Care Act

The Maryland Catholic Conference joined with others in support of the Time to Care Act (HB 839/SB 539) in the House of Delegates on Feb. 24, a bill that would expand access to paid family leave to Maryland workers, allowing up to 12 weeks of paid time off from work to welcome a new baby, to provide care and comfort for family members with serious health conditions or disabilities, or to deal with a personal illness or injury.

"No person should have to make the impossible choice of whether to care for their families or lose their job, yet for many Marylanders, this is their reality," said Anne Wallerstedt, associate director of Social and Economic Justice for the Conference. "This bill would provide those workers with a means to still have some income in the event they should grow their family, or face illness." 

As proposed, the Time to Care Act would be funded through the creation of an insurance program, to which both employers and employees would contribute. For workers, the contribution would amount to less than 1% of a paycheck. When a worker needs to access the fund, it would pay between $50 and $1,000 per week, depending on their income. 

The Senate will hear its version of the bill on Feb. 27 at 1 p.m. 

To send a message to your legislator in support of the Time to Care Act CLICK HERE.

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Maryland Catholic Conference supports HOME Act

After nearly 2 decades of attempts to end income-based housing discrimination, a bill that would prohibit landlords and sellers from refusing to rent or sell a home to someone based on their source of income, moved one step closer to passing in the 2020 session.

The bill, SB 530, passed in the Senate on Feb. 18 and is now headed to the House of Delegates for consideration.

The Maryland Catholic Conference has supported SB 530 — known as the HOME Act (Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act) — for the last several years. The Conference joined again this session with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and others in support of the bill. 

At is core, the HOME Act is an effort to de-concentrate poverty by providing additional opportunities for tenants utilizing public subsidies to live in neighborhoods other than the neighborhoods in which those individuals are currently and disproportionately residing.

"Our church supports this bill because it seeks to ensure that everyone, regardless of their source of income, is able to provide a home for themselves or their family," said Anne Wallerstedt, associate director of Social and Economic Justice for the Conference. "Often, even though an individual or a family may have been able to secure housing assistance through a federal or state program, those individuals struggle to find a place to live where a landlord or seller accepts that assistance — whether that assistance comes from cash assistance, child support, alimony, or a housing voucher. Individuals and families having the lawful means to rent or buy a home should not be denied that housing based on their source of income."

The HOME Act was first introduced in the General Assembly in 2002 by Sen. Delores Kelley, who represents District 10. In 2019, several local jurisdictions in Maryland, including Baltimore City, adopted similar laws to prohibit housing discrimination based on the source of a person's income. 

To learn more about the HOME Act, CLICK HERE.

 

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Maryland Catholic Conference testifies in support of Kirwin Commission recommendations

Only 50 days remain in the 2020 Maryland General Assembly Session, and on Monday, Feb. 17, lawmakers heard hours of testimony on one of the most anticipated bills: SB 1000/HB 1300 — known as The Blueprint for Maryland's Future, the bill that would implement the proposals from the Kirwin Commission. 

Officially known as the "Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education" but generally referred to as the Kirwin Commission in honor of its chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, the commission convened in 2016 with a goal to develop recommendations for how Maryland education is funded, operated and how it prepares students for college or the workforce. The commission offered its recommendations in 2019. 

Maryland's Catholic Bishops have supported the commission's recommendations and in January, Archbishop William E. Lori, chairman of the Maryland Catholic Conference, jointly penned with Baltimore City Public School's CEO Sonja Santelises an op-ed in The Baltimore Sun calling on Maryland lawmakers to pass the bill. 

"It is clear to all that the most pressing issue to be debated this session is the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, better known as the Kirwan Commission," they wrote in the article. "These reforms offer the promise of equitable and excellent educational opportunities for every student, regardless of their income or neighborhood." Read their full article HERE

Just some of the changes the bill would bring to Maryland's education system include:

  • Expand prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds and to 3-year-olds from low-income families
  • Allow more Catholic and other nonpublic schools to participate as sites for prekindergarten
  • Alter the requirements to become a teacher and raise teacher salaries
  • Expand full-day kindergarten
  • Establish a career counseling program for middle and high school students, and college and career readiness standards
  • Provide additional support to special education students and schools that serve low-income families
  • Ensure education dollars are properly utilized

 

The state would phase in any changes over 10 years. If fully implemented, the Blueprint is expected to cost the state an additional $4 billion annually.

The Conference offered testimony in support of the bill on Feb. 17, but suggested numerous amendments. To read our testimony CLICK HERE.

 

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