Mark Uncapher, is serving as President of the Montgomery County Republican Club. Mark is a long-time party activist who previously served as the Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Central Committee.
Keep Educational Hope Alive: Fully Fund Maryland’s BOOST Scholarships
A high-profile battle in the 2023 Maryland General Assembly has been triggered by Gov. Wes Moore’s budget proposal to cut $2 million from the BOOST scholarship program. A glimmer of hope has resulted after Senate President Bill Ferguson said, ‘I’ve evolved,’ and he now understood the importance of total funding. The Senate President said after hearing from BOOST families; he now thought “funding education and young people – wherever they are – is a value for the State of Maryland.” [i]
BOOST, or the “Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today” program, is a $10 million program that offers scholarships to low-income families to take their students out of struggling schools and put them in private institutions. All scholarship recipients must be eligible for the Free and Reduced-Price Meal Program (FARMs). The State Department of Education (MSDE) certifies scholarship recipients as qualified.
Over the past seven years, nearly 20,000 BOOST scholarships have been awarded to low-income students. In the 2022-23 school year, 3,248 students receive BOOST scholarships in 21 of Maryland’s 24 counties and the city of Baltimore. Nearly $3 million has been awarded to families in Baltimore City alone.
Noteworthy highlights regarding scholarships awarded for the current (2022-23) school year include:
· Most student recipients were minorities (55.5%), including 32% Black and 15% Latino.
· BOOST scholarship-recipient families collectively had an average income of just over $36,000 for their entire household.
· 1,030 student recipients were English Language Learners (ELLs).
· Most program dollars go toward students who used BOOST to transfer from public school.
Contrast Governor Moore’s position on BOOST with his personal history. He acknowledges benefiting from the educational choice his family enjoyed. While growing up in New York City, he attended the ultra-exclusive Riverdale Country Day School, with a current $51,295 tuition. [ii] After becoming involved in petty crime by his own account, his family sent him to the Valley Forge Military Academy. (current $39,000 tuition).[iii] Moore has credited his time at Valley Forge with transforming his life. [iv]
The Senate President had perhaps an even more elite secondary education. William Claiborne Ferguson IV graduated from Georgetown Preparatory School in 2001. Founded in 1789 and located in North Bethesda, it is America’s oldest Catholic boarding and day school. (current tuition $42,000 per year[v])
Interestingly, Ferguson is not alone in making the “Bethesda to Baltimore” leap in Maryland politics after attending high-performing schools. Former Governor Martin O’Malley attended our Lady of Lourdes elementary school in Bethesda and Gonzaga College High School in Washington, DC. Similarly, Comptroller Brooke Lierman graduated from Bethesda’s prestigious public high school Walt Whitman. It routinely ranks as the best public high school in the state and among the best in the country. [vi]
Compare these elite educations to the outcomes of Baltimore City’s public schools. The Maryland State Department of Education recently released the 2022 state test results, MCAP. The Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program found that just 7 percent of third through eighth graders tested proficient in math. Not a single student could do math at grade level among the 2,000 students at 23 schools.[vii]
The Maryland State Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, staunchly opposes the BOOST program. Their position partially reflects the evident assumption that funding exists solely for the benefit of institutions and their employees rather than students. Reversing this by putting students first would require a revolution in MSEA’s thinking.
Although the BOOST program only provides an educational lifeline to a tiny percentage of students in failing schools, it gives a valuable alternative for many and should continue. Hopefully, concern for the impact on BOOST’s students will carry more weight in the General Assembly than the MSEA’s ideological position.
[ii] https://www.riverdale.edu/admission/financial-aid/ According to Niche.com, Riverdale is ranked the 3rd best private high school in New York City and the 5th best private K-12 school in the United States. https://www.niche.com/k12/search/best-private-k12-schools/
[iii] Moore, Wes (January 11, 2011). The Other Wes Moore. Random House Publishing Group. pp. 250. ISBN 9780385528207. Retrieved August 18, 2015; https://www.vfmac.edu/academ-tuition-fees-and-scholarship-information/