When Baltimore Jewish Council board members voted in 2009 to support legislation that would help students and their families pay for nonpublic school tuition, they realized there was a growing need for financial aid in their community.
“In [Jewish] day schools, they have a reputation of finding a way to accommodate every kid, even if that means the classroom is bursting,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC. “So they find a way to accommodate financial needs for students, but providing some additional dollars helps the families and schools to get a better quality education.”
Around the same time the BJC made its initial push to ensure that children get the best possible education, state lawmakers also sought similar legislation.
Now, seven years later, during this year’s legislative session, Del. Antonio Hayes (D-District 40, Baltimore City), Del. Keith Haynes (D-District 44, Baltimore City) and Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11, Baltimore County) all supported legislation that would have helped low-income students and their families pay private school tuition.
Although the bills failed to make it through the Senate and the House of Delegates, the legislature ultimately approved $5 million that Gov. Larry Hogan had set aside in the state budget for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program. On Dec. 13, the governor addressed hundreds of students, faculty and parents at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, announcing that the state-funded program would gradually see its funding increase from $5 million to $10 million by 2020.
“We’re working hard to ensure every single child in the state of Maryland is given the chance to get a great education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” Hogan said. “We owe it to our children to find new and innovative ways and solutions to make sure everyone gets those opportunities.”
Through BOOST, which provides scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools in areas with under-performing public schools, many families of Jewish students are better positioned to bear the burden of high tuition costs.
In the Jewish community alone, more than 700 students from Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore, Chabad of Park Heights, Mesivta Ne’imus HaTorah, Ohr Chadash Academy, the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, Bais HaMedrash and Mesivta of Baltimore, Israel Henry Beren High School, the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore and the Torah Institute of Baltimore were awarded scholarships that totalled more than $1 million.
Chana Kagan, a teacher at the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, said the economic relief the program provides to families struggling to make ends meet can go a long way.
“Now, a family will know that [tuition] is not all on their heads all the time,” Kagan said. “The financial burden is a lot. It’s not as if the people here aren’t trying. People here work hard. They try hard, and they try one thing or another to make it work when it comes to providing their children the best education they can.”
A seven-member advisory board appointed by the state legislature met eight times this past summer to determine the criteria for how students and schools would be deemed eligible for the program. More than 5,000 students applied for the program, with 2,447 students from 171 schools across the state receiving scholarships.
“In [Jewish] day schools, they have a reputation of finding a way to accommodate every kid, even if that means the classroom is bursting.” — Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC
Sarah Mersky, director of government relations at the BJC, said advisory board member Elizabeth Green was instrumental in the application process. Working with the BJC, Green and Agudath Israel of Maryland director Rabbi Ariel Sadwin helped set up special workshops at schools where families could apply to BOOST and check their application’s progress online.
Many of the families, Mersky said, don’t have access to a computer, and because applications are submitted and monitored electronically, they were left with no other choice.
“It was really boots on the ground what [Green] and [Sadwin] did in such a short amount of time that people had to apply and for us to get out the information,” Mersky said. “So it was a really big applause for what they both did.”
Green, one of Hogan’s two personal selections to the board, praised the governor for his active participation.
“I want to thank Gov. Hogan as we continue to shape the BOOST program, which has had such a tremendous impact,” said Green, who also sits on the board of the BJC and Bnos Yisroel of Baltimore.
The program was created with money in place for one school year, giving state lawmakers the choice to extend or cease it.
Hogan said the decision to continue BOOST solidifies his commitment to making education one of his administration’s top priorities, which drew a standing ovation from the crowd on Dec. 13.
“I knew I came to the right audience,” Hogan said with a laugh.