Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program was enacted in 2016, launched in 2016, and began providing vouchers in 2016–17. This school choice program, the state’s first, provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools. Learn more about the program’s funding, eligibility, and rules on this page.
Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program was enacted in 2016, launched in 2016 and began providing vouchers in 2016–17. This school choice program, the state’s first, provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools.
Funded by appropriation, each student’s voucher is funded at the statewide average of the per-pupil expenditures by all local education agencies for the current school year, up to but not exceeding the amount of tuition at the private school. In 2017–18, voucher amounts ranged from $1,000 to $4,400 each, and the highest award amount went to students who qualified for the federal free and reduced-price lunch (FRL) program ($32,630 for a family of four in 2018–19) and attended a public school last year. The legislature established the program as a budget item. It appropriated $8.85 million from the general fund to fund vouchers for students as well as awarded rollover funds for the 2018–19 school year.
Students are eligible if they live in families with incomes up to, but not exceeding, 100 percent of the federal free and reduced-price lunch program ($46,435 for a family of four in 2018–19). For students who are receiving a BOOST voucher for the first time, priority shall be given to students who attended public schools in the prior year. Renewing students who remain income-eligible are entitled to vouchers.
The Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program provides vouchers for low-income students to attend eligible private schools of choice. Though this is a first step toward educational opportunity for Maryland students, the program has several important shortcomings. As a line-item appropriation, the program is subject to reenactment by the current legislature—meaning students are not guaranteed a voucher from year to year. The program’s very low funding cap limits student participation. Also, private schools of choice must administer the state test, which may limit private school participation and provide a strong incentive for participating schools to narrow their curricula and “teach to the test.”
The program also requires the Maryland Department of Education to “compile and certify” a list of applicants and rank them by eligibility before sending to the BOOST advisory board. Though this was likely intended to provide the most aid to the most disadvantaged students, this policy creates unnecessary invasions of privacy and forces a ranking system for students already eligible for the program. This program includes Maryland’s Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, Title 20 Subtitle 6 of the State Governor Article, which requires private schools eligible for vouchers to not discriminate in student admissions based on race, color, national origin or sexual orientation. Though the program includes a protection for religious liberty, “Nothing herein shall require any school or institution to adopt any rule, regulation, or policy that conflicts with its religious or moral teachings,” the effect of this expanded layer of regulatory control is yet to be determined.
No legal challenges have been filed against the program.