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Catholic students, others advocate for programs benefiting nonpublic schools in Annapolis

Nearly 1,000 Maryland students and teachers from nonpublic schools, including many Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, gathered in Annapolis on March 4 to advocate for state programs benefiting nonpublic schools.

Nonpublic School Advocacy Day, sponsored by the Maryland Council for American Private Education (CAPE) of which both the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Maryland Catholic Conference are members, provides the opportunity for students to observe the state government in session and speak with lawmakers regarding issues impacting their local school communities.

This year, students spoke to their delegates and senators regarding the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) scholarship program; nonpublic school safety, textbook and aging schools programs; and prekindergarten expansion programs.

For the past four years, BOOST has provided scholarships for low-income students who qualify for free and reduced meals to attend nonpublic schools. For the 2019-20 school year, BOOST scholarships benefited nearly 3,100 students, totaling $7.5 million.

Nonpublic school safety, textbook and aging schools programs all support nonpublic schools through grants which allow the schools to provide a safe environment to its students, as well as textbooks and maintenance and infrastructure repairs.

With the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future prekindergarten expansion program, nonpublic schools are seeking to partner with public school programs in providing access to education for all 4-year-olds and low-income 3-year-olds.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has long voiced his support for school choice, addressed the students in a rally near the State Capitol building, telling them of the importance of their presence.

“I believe so strongly that every single child in our state deserves a world-class education regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in,” the governor said. “We put record funding into education six years in a row, and it’s so important that you have the opportunity to be able to go to the school of your choice. This year we doubled the amount of money in these BOOST scholarships so that deserving kids like you can attend the school of their choice.”

He told the students they “have an important job” in speaking to their legislators about the importance of the BOOST scholarship program.

“Not everybody believes that this increase in the budget for BOOST is the right idea, but you can make a difference in convincing them,” Gov. Hogan said.

In his proposed budget for the 2021 fiscal year, Gov. Hogan has asked legislators to allocate $10 million to the BOOST scholarship program, which would increase funds by nearly $3 million.

Sixth-grade students at St. Pius X Regional School in Bowie, Maryland, and fourth-grade students from St. Mary of the Assumption in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, attended nonpublic school advocacy day, which included a meeting with State Sen. Douglas Peters and Del. Marvin Holmes. Both St. Pius X and St. Mary of the Assumption are in District 23, which those lawmakers represent.

“It’s important for all kids to have the opportunity to go to school,” said Jewel Moore, a sixth-grader at St. Pius X Regional School.

Fourth-grader Dinobi Ijomah from St. Mary of the Assumption spoke on behalf of the students to Sen. Peters and Del. Holmes, expressing the students’ support for the BOOST scholarship program, nonpublic school safety, textbook and aging schools programs, and the prekindergarten expansion programs.

“We are here to advocate for these programs,” Ijomah told the senator and delegate.

Sen. Peters assured the students that he supports all of the programs.

Ijomah told the Catholic Standard that with a three-year-old sister at home, expanding prekindergarten access with the help of nonpublic schools “would be wonderful.”

“She loves to learn,” Ijomah said.

Ten schools in the Archdiocese of Washington attended Nonpublic School Advocacy Day.

“We’re so excited to see nearly 1,000 students and teachers come down to Annapolis to support our nonpublic schools,” Garrett O’Day, deputy director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said. “Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington have always been a huge voice for our nonpublic schools on this day every year. It’s great to have the students both learn about state government and learn that they are the most powerful voice for their schools.”

On March 5, the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee voted “to maintain the full $10 million provided in the governor’s proposed budget for next year,” O’Day said.

The entire budget will move to the floor of the Senate and then to the House of Delegates for approval.

Josephine von Dohlen is a reporter for The Catholic Standard in Washington, D.C.