Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program was enacted launched, and began providing vouchers in 2016. 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.
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 $6.58 million from the general fund to fund vouchers for students as well as awarded rollover funds for the 2019–20 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 ($47,638 for a family of four in 2019–20). Renewing students who remain income-eligible are entitled to vouchers as long as funding is available.
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. Indeed, not only does the program’s very low funding cap limit student participation, but there was even a reduction in the base appropriation during the 2019 legislative session.
Additionally, 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.
Legislators did take one step in the right direction in 2019 by eliminating the burdensome requirement that private schools of choice administer the state test. Instead, the schools may now select from a menu of nationally norm-referenced tests.
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. Pending. Bethel Ministries, Inc v. Salmon, US District Court for the District of Maryland Northern Division, Case 1:19-cv-01853-ELH (2019)
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