By Erik Zygmont
Families are snapping up new state scholarship money in order to send their kids to non-public schools, and many are choosing Catholic schools.
“We’ve got some real basis for showing the state legislature that the demand is there,” said Garrett O’Day, associate director of education, children and families for the Maryland Catholic Conference, the legislative lobbying arm of the Maryland bishops.
Approved March 29, the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program amounted to a $5 million appropriation in the state budget for students from low-income families who wish to attend non-public schools.
By the time a BOOST advisory board was named and procedures were set in place for the scholarship program, there was only about six weeks before the application deadline of July 11, O’Day said. The state nonetheless received approximately 3,000 applications from eligible students, despite no promotion from the state.
Once applications were certified, the advisory board divided the students into four categories, based on family income and whether or not they were already attending non-public schools.
Students coming from public schools and eligible for free lunches were offered scholarships of $4,400 for the 2016-17 school year. Those coming from public schools and eligible for reduced-price lunches were offered $3,400. Students already in private schools and eligible for free lunches were offered $1,400.
Some students already in private schools and eligible for reduced-price lunches were offered $1,000, but many in this category were put on a waiting list, O’Day said.
Families were required to accept scholarship offers by Aug. 21. Data on students who actually accepted scholarships was not available at press time.
According to James B. Sellinger, chancellor for education of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, about $1.5 million of the available $5 million was offered to 628 students – 38 percent of whom are coming from public schools – who hope to attend Catholic schools within the archdiocese this school year.
A little more than $1 million of that, he said, was offered to 445 students who wish to attend archdiocesan schools, with 35 percent of them coming from public schools.
Students and prospective students of Baltimore’s four Catholic Community Schools – Archbishop Borders, Cardinal Shehan, Holy Angels and Ss. James and John – were offered about 35 percent of the approximately $1 million offered to students interested in archdiocesan schools.
“A lot of families have come up to me and shown appreciation for BOOST, because it allows them to have a choice,” said Fametta Jackson, principal of Cardinal Shehan.
As of Aug. 22, Cardinal Shehan enrollment had grown to 388 students, including 34 due to BOOST.