ANNAPOLIS — Education officials and advocates held a recent press conference at the Loews House Office Building with a simple message for state delegates: Use public money for public schools.
The group specifically called for the repeal of Gov. Larry Hogan’s BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) program and for state lawmakers to reject a $7 million allocation they say essentially uses public money to fund private schools.
“The commitment of the state should be to public education,” Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said after the Feb. 28 press conference. “That’s what the constitution requires. Diverting that [money] is shameful.”
Baker and others at the Lowe House of Delegates Building said the money could be used for school construction, paper, pencils and after-school programs.
Four days after the press conference, more than 1,000 non-public school students rallied Thursday, March 2 at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis to support Hogan’s voucher program. Hogan greeted the students, parents and supporters and took pictures with them. He encouraging the crowd to inform their legislators on the benefits of the program and later chanted, “Boost our education!”
Hogan pointed out that top Democratic leaders — House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller — helped get the BOOST program approved last year.
According to the state Department of Education, almost $5 million will be used for low-income students in the 2016-17 school year, with the majority of them from Baltimore City and Baltimore and Montgomery counties.
In Prince George’s, the participating private schools include Al Huda School in College Park, Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville and Excellence Christian School in Upper Marlboro.
Hogan announced in December he wants the state to spend $10 million in the next three years toward the program.
Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, said she didn’t approve of lawmakers using public money as private school vouchers last year.
Her organization and a dozen others delivered a letter to delegate offices that outlines how nearly 2,500 students who received vouchers about 1,900, or 78 percent, already attended private schools.
“There is no accountability for this money, so we don’t know if these students are getting a better education because [private schools] don’t have to meet the same standards as our public schools,” said Weller, a middle school teacher for Kent County Public Schools. “Seven million dollars in the big scheme of things isn’t much money … but when you have almost $3 billion in unmet needs in your public schools, every penny counts.”
Although Hogan hasn’t spoken publicly on President Donald Trump and his policies, former NAACP President Ben Jealous said the Maryland governor’s actions speak loudly. It coincides with Trump appointing Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire and supporter of charter schools and vouchers, as secretary of education.
“It’s the boldest support of the Trump agenda we’ve seen yet from this governor and it’s highly problematic,” Jealous said.