Maryland Republican lawmakers are making a push to save a program that uses state tax dollars to pay for private school tuition, as Gov. Wes Moore moves to eliminate it.

Moore, a Democrat, has proposed phasing out funding for Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, an initiative supported by former Gov. Larry Hogan that’s better known as BOOST.

Moore put $8 million for the program in his first budget, a drop from last year, and intends to limit eligibility to current BOOST students and their siblings. Currently about 3,200 students are receiving private school tuition through BOOST.

Republicans argue that full funding for the program — $10 million per year — is small compared to the entire budget, and the money is well-spent in helping children leave what they say are low-performing public schools for better-performing private schools.

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Del. Jeff Ghrist from the Eastern Shore and 31 other Republican delegates are sponsoring a bill that would establish BOOST as a permanent program in state law with $10 million in annual funding required. Since its creation in 2016, BOOST has been a line item in the state budget, at risk of being cut in budget negotiations each year.

The Republican bill further sets criteria to identify “failing schools” and require local school districts to send their per-pupil funding to the state to pay tuition for students in those schools who wish to attend private schools instead.

Del. Jeff Ghrist talks about education issues during a press conference with Republican lawmakers in Annapolis on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.
Del. Jeff Ghrist talks about education issues during a press conference with Republican lawmakers in Annapolis on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023. (Pamela Wood)

“Children in our classrooms today have a right to learn. We cannot leave them behind,” Ghrist said during a press conference on Wednesday, appropriating Moore’s motto of “Leave No One Behind.”

Speaking to reporters, Republican leaders acknowledged their effort faces long odds. They’re outnumbered by Democrats nearly 3-to-1 in the General Assembly. Ghrist said Democrats work “in lockstep.”

“What we’re hoping is that it’s their constituents, their folks back home, that are asking for this bill to pass,” he said.

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BOOST has some bipartisan support, but the state teachers union and many Democrats object to using public dollars for private schools. Moore said on the campaign trail that he intended to eliminate the BOOST program.

pamela.wood@thebaltimorebanner.com

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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