Living Questions: Should Maryland Subsidize Religious Education? | WYPR

Living Questions: Should Maryland Subsidize Religious Education?

Mar 16, 2017

Maryland's BOOST program offers low-income families vouchers to offset the cost of private school tuition.
Credit photo courtesy washingtonwire.com

This is another installment of Living Questions, a program produced in collaboration with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies that explores the role of religion in the public sphere.  On today’s edition, guest host Rob Sivak leads a discussion about "school choice" in Maryland.

Ever since the 2010 Republican wave gained control of the US House, Senate, and governor's mansions across the country, states have been introducing school voucher programs and voucher-like initiatives such as tax credits or education savings accounts.  This year, 31 states have passed or introduced bills to create or expand some private school-choice program.

Last year, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan proposed, and the Maryland legislature approved, a $5 million program for the Maryland State Department of Education called BOOST -- Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today -- that funds vouchers, or scholarships, for students who are eligible for the free or reduced–price lunch program to attend eligible nonpublic schools.  In other words, low-income families who qualify are given some of the public funds that the state normally sends to public school districts, and allowed to use that money to pay some or all of the tuition at a religious or non-religious private school of their choice.  The governor has proposed raising BOOST’s funding to $7 million in his new 2017/2018 budget, and wants to raise it to $10 million a year by 2020.

The school voucher program has passionate supporters and equally passionate detractors, who charge that the cost of the voucher program is draining badly needed funds away from the public schools, and essentially subsidizing families already attending private religious schools. Joining Rob in the studio to discuss the pros and cons of Maryland’s school voucher program are two people on opposite sides of the issue: 

Matt Gallagher is a Baltimore native, and the President and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, a Baltimore-based community and enterprise development grant organization.  Last year, he was appointed by leaders of the Maryland legislature as chairman of the 7-member advisory board of BOOST, which runs the Maryland State Department of Education's school voucher program. 

Meredith Curtis Goode is Communications Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The non-profit legal watchdog group has opposed school vouchers. It’s called for the BOOST program to be terminated and its funds used to support the state’s public school system.