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Gov. Moore defends proposed BOOST program cuts as GOP lawmakers look to restore funding

WBFF Baltimore 2/23/2023 Mikenzie Frost |
© Provided by WBFF Baltimore

Gov. Wes Moore defended his decision to cut funding to a scholarship program that provides low-income families opportunities to send their child to private schools instead of struggling schools.

The BOOST Program is a $10 million program that offers scholarships to low-income families so they can take their students out of struggling schools and put them in private institutions. According to the latest data available from the BOOST program, nearly $3 million has been award to families in Baltimore City alone.

In his first budget proposal, Moore is seeking to cut $2 million from BOOST. Republicans argued Moore faced pressure from teacher’s unions to cut the program, noting historic opposition from the unions to voucher programs.

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“The decisions that I make are my decisions and no one is behind my decisions,” Moore said when questioned about the possible influence from the union. “As we are thinking about what needs to happen with public dollars, public dollars do not need to be going to private schools. Public dollars are going to ensuring that we are building a world-class, public-school system for all Maryland students.”

According to the latest state testing, 23 schools in Baltimore City had zero students who were tested, proficient at math. One of the schools without tested students able to do math at grade level is Johnston Square Elementary; cutting the program that helped Nefertari Lee and her son Bryce not attend Johnston Square Elementary is something she can’t fathom.

“It’s such a small amount of money we are talking about here, but it makes such a big difference. I just don’t think that this is an area that we should cut. We are ultimately cutting kids futures if we do that,” Lee said Wednesday before a bill hearing to restore the $2 million for BOOST. “I can’t imagine, and I don’t want to think about what it would have been like without it, I’m just grateful that we had to the BOOST program to help us get there.”

The Maryland State Education Association is a union that has donated to Moore’s gubernatorial efforts in the past. In 2022, it maxed out - $6,000 – to Moore and in January 2023, the union donated $1,000.

“I think in many ways he’s returning a favor for their endorsement,” John Dedie said, a political analyst and Political Science Program Director at the Community College of Baltimore County. “I think something like this shows the teacher’s union definition has a great deal of power in Annapolis. They were shut out for 8 years where Gov. Hogan didn’t care what they thought.”

Moore pointed to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – or Kirwan Education Plan – that is set to put an estimated $30 billion over the next decade. Moore said the plan will help put more funding in schools that need extra help. However, Del. Jeff Ghirst, the GOP lawmaker sponsoring the bill to codify the BOOST program and expand it to more people, said the Blueprint plan doesn’t help struggling students now.

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“Proportionally it is going to be those failing schools in those impoverished areas are going to hopefully see the biggest results,” Ghrist said. “We are committed to our public schools but despite the fact that we are committed to it, we have students who want to get out of those failing schools now.”

The bill backed by Ghrist was heard Wednesday in the House Ways and Means Committee, though a vote was not held. After the hearing, Chair Vanessa Atterbeary said it’s not likely the BOOST program will move forward.

“I think that the path of the General Assembly is to phase out the BOOST funding,” Atterbeary said. “Parents who use the money now, we are going to make sure their kids won’t be kicked out of whatever school they are in now.”

Del. Atterbeary said the bill will be sent to a subcommittee where further debate could happen, but she said it’s unclear whether any portions of the legislation will continue.

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