The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington last week testified in favor of a budget increase for a Maryland state program that provides scholarships to low-income private school students, and in its first year assisted more than 100 youngsters attending Jewish day schools in Montgomery County. Many Jewish students from Baltimore also benefited.
The Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program, which was launched for the 2016-2017 school year, was established as a line item in the state’s $42 billion budget by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The legislature appropriated $4.85 million from the state’s general fund for the scholarships for the one-year initiative, and the governor is now seeking to increase the program to $10 million over the next three years. Hogan’s request for fiscal year 2018 is an increase of $1.85 million, which would make $6.7 million available for the 2017-2018 school year.
In its testimony to the state Senate’s Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee and the General Assembly’s Education and Economic Development Subcommittee, the JCRC — while reaffirming its long-standing commitment to public school education — said that “because the program is funded through general tax revenue, we feel it adds new money for education without taking away money from public schools, and therefore it merited JCRC support.”
The JCRC had not taken a position on BOOST for the initial funding year. “At the time, we did not feel that we had enough information,” said Ron Halber, JCRC executive director. “With a lack of information about the source of funding and the details of the plan, we could not determine if the program met our standards of support.”
The JCRC’s executive committee voted earlier this month to back the program. “We’ve seen its success in helping day school families in our community,” Halber said. “In addition, we are confident that the BOOST program has been structured in such a way that it does not take any money away from the public school system. The tuition program represents a miniscule portion of the state budget, but makes a huge difference in family budgets.”
Students eligible for the free or reduced lunch program can also apply for the scholarships, and this year saw more than 100 youngsters attending Montgomery County Orthodox Jewish day schools receive tuition scholarships, which ranged from $1,000 to $4,000 each. Thirty-five students at the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville received a total of $50,000 in scholarship funding; 46 students at the Torah School of Greater Washington in Silver Spring received a total of $65,800; and 25 students at the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, also in Silver Spring, received scholarships totaling $32,600.
It was not immediately available if the Alef Bet Montessori School in Rockville and the Leo Bernstein Jewish Academy of Fine Arts in Silver Spring have students who received scholarships. (The BOOST program’s structure does not allow Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville to participate at this time.)
In total, 444 students in Montgomery County received BOOST scholarship assistance; the only two areas of the state that have more youngsters receiving scholarships this school year were Baltimore County and the City of Baltimore.