Nearly 1,400 private school students descended on Annapolis on March 1 — ahead of state budget proceedings — to advocate for scholarship money for low-income students.
The record-setting number of students turned out for Nonpublic School Advocacy Day, which was hosted by the Maryland Council for American Private Education (CAPE) and addressed by Gov. Larry Hogan and Senate president Mike Miller, among other legislators.
The day was planned just weeks before the budget for the upcoming fiscal year will be proposed and voted on. Nonpublic schools will be paying particular attention to Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) funding that provides scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools in areas with under-performing public schools, which Gov. Hogan signed into legislation after a unanimous vote in 2016.
Students from Bais Yaakov, Bnos Yisroel and Mesivta N’eimus HaTorah of Baltimore and Rockville’s Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy were in attendance at the event, where they lobbied legislators to continue their support for the BOOST program. Hogan has proposed an increase to its funding from $5 million to $10 million by 2020. If his proposal passes, the next budget will see $7 million put toward BOOST.
“It’s so important that you get a chance to participate in the electoral process by coming here to meet your legislators and to let them know how important this legislation is for you and how much this legislation helps kids across the state,” Hogan said to the students. “Last year, every single member of both parties voted for this program. We want them to commit to keeping their word again this year. This is a tremendous program that has helped so many kids who otherwise might not have the chance for a great education, and we want to add more money to help more kids. Twist some arms on some legislators, and tell them how important this is.”
The event was also an opportunity for students to learn firsthand about lobbying.
“Even though you can’t vote, you can still do things that affect change in Maryland,” said Sarah Mersky of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “Writing letters to your representatives will help ensure that that this money stays in that budget and that more and more kids can have scholarships to go to the schools of their choice.”
Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, president of Maryland CAPE, attributed the size and success of the rally to the impact that BOOST had on students last year.
“There is much bigger enthusiasm because the funding is at a point that it has never been before,” he said.
More than 5,000 students applied for the program last year, and 2,447 from 171 schools were awarded scholarship money. In the Baltimore Jewish community, more than 700 students from Bnos Yisroel, Chabad of Park Heights, Mesivta Ne’imus HaTorah, Ohr Chadash Academy, Bais Yaakov, Bais HaMedrash and Mesivta, the Israel Henry Beren High School, the Talmudical Academy and the Torah Institute were awarded scholarships that totaled more than $1 million.
Sadwin sees the increased BOOST budget as necessary and believes that nonpublic schools are deserving of more money from the government.
“We are saving the State of Maryland a lot of money,” he said. “It has spent several billion on public schools. We are privately educated, paying mostly by ourselves and our communities. We are just asking for a little help.”
In terms of its role in lobbying, Maryland CAPE’s ability to impact nonpublic schools has increased in recent years, Sadwin said, which he attributes to all CAPE chapters joining to become one coalition representing all of the nonpublic, faith-based and independent schools.
The crowd on March 1 certainly grabbed the attention of legislators, both with the size of the rally and the chant of “Boost Our Education!”
Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41) observed in his speech, “We are standing, in terms of education, on hallowed ground, because Thurgood Marshall couldn’t go to law school in this state [because of the Maryland Law School’s segregation policy], but he sued to make sure that children across the country and in this state could go to the school that best fits their needs. And that is what the BOOST program is about, so I am glad to support it.”
Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) remarked that the crowd for the rally was the largest that he had seen in Annapolis this year and voiced his support for the program, as did his District 11 colleagues.
“It is really important for me and my colleagues and for everyone in Annapolis to hear from you,” Del. Shelly Hettleman told the crowd. “For them to see your faces and know that this program is really important to you … we think a high-quality education is important for everyone. My colleagues and I, and many others, stand with you.”