Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program
- Enacted 2016
- Launched 2016
Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program, the state’s first private school choice program, provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools. Learn more about the program’s funding, eligibility, legal history and rules on this page.
We do not administer the program.
Participating Students (Fall 2019)
of Families with Children Income-eligible Statewide
Participating Schools (2019–20)
Average Voucher Value (2019–20)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Maryland’s BOOST Program Participation
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. The program’s advisory board takes into account a student’s special needs when determining scholarship amounts and may fund these students with higher vouchers than the per-pupil average.
The Maryland legislature established the program as a budget item, and it is funded by appropriation. It appropriated $10 million from the general fund to fund vouchers for students as well as awarded rollover funds for the 2021–22 school year. Of the appropriation, $0.7 million is set aside for providing higher vouchers to students with special needs.
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 ($49,025 for a family of four in 2021–22). Renewing students who remain income-eligible are entitled to vouchers as long as funding is available.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program helps thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do much more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Only 19 percent of Maryland students are eligible for a scholarship and only 0.3 percent of students statewide actually use a scholarship.
The average scholarship size is about $2,008, which is about 12 percent of the average expenditure per student at Maryland’s district schools. The amount of scholarships budgeted for the 2020–21 academic year is only $10 million, which is equivalent to only 0.76 percent of Maryland’s total K–12 expenditures.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Maryland policymakers should dramatically increase funding for the scholarship and expand eligibility to all students (prioritizing scholarships based on need). Instead of funding the scholarships via an annual line-item appropriation, the scholarships should be formula funded. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
Additionally, Maryland’s scholarship program has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. The program 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. Schools participating in this program also must adhere to Maryland’s Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended and Title 20 Subtitle 6 of the State Governor Article, which requires private schools eligible for vouchers to not discriminate in student admissions, retention, expulsion or otherwise based on race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Although 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 state government expelled one private religious school from participating in the program due to its stated beliefs about marriage and sexuality, even though the school fully complied with the state’s nondiscrimination policy concerning admissions. The case is currently being litigated.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 100 percent x FRL
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
- Geographic Limit: Statewide
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: 100% Statewide Average Per-Pupil Expenditure by Local Education Agencies
- Testing Mandates: National
- Have participated in state’s Non-Public Schools Program for Textbooks and Computer Hardware and Software
- Have at least one grade above kindergarten
- Administer national norm-referenced assessments to all students in English/language arts and mathematics in grades 3–8 and high school, and at least three times in science
- Comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended and Title 20 Subtitle 6 of the State Governor Article
- Agree not to discriminate in student admissions, retention, or expulsion on the basis of race, color, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
- If a non-public school fails to comply with these requirements, it shall reimburse all scholarship funds to the state
On June 24, 2019, Bethel Ministries filed litigation in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland Northern Division against the State Superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education and the BOOST Advisory Board, alleging violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise, Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment for their actions in disqualifying Bethel Christian Academy from Maryland’s voucher program and seeking return of over $100,000 of tuition funding paid to the school by students using BOOST vouchers.
The school was disqualified due to statements in its parent/student handbook regarding marriage and biological sex. Participating schools are prohibited from discriminating in the admissions process against students based on sexual orientation. Although Bethel Christian Academy has not discriminated against any student, the school was nonetheless disqualified. In December 2019, the court ruled that this litigation may proceed. Discovery should conclude in February 2021; pre-trial motions are due in April 2021. Pending. Bethel Ministries, Inc v. Salmon, US District Court for the District of Maryland Northern Division, Case 1:19-cv-01853-ELH (2019)
Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
The Maryland chapter of the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) works to preserve and promote educational pluralism so that parents have a choice in the schooling of their children. They provide educational resources and a collective voice for Maryland’s nonpublic school community.