Maryland General Assembly leaders on Friday compromised on how much money to budget for scholarships for children from low-income households to attend private schools, resolving one of the final disputes impeding approval of the state’s $63 billion budget.
The legislative session is scheduled to end April 10.
Friday’s agreement between leaders from the state Senate and House of Delegates came one day after delegates gathered for a meeting to iron out differences that ended after senators didn’t arrive.
Students who are already in the program, and their siblings, will get priority for the scholarships, said Del. Ben Barnes, D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s, the House’s lead budget negotiator.
More than 3,200 students received scholarships as part of the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program, or BOOST, for the 2022-23 school year, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
This year’s budget included $10 million for the BOOST program.
Democratic Gov. Wes Moore proposed $8 million for the scholarships in next year’s budget, with hopes of increasing funding for public schools.
“Gov. Moore is going to do whatever it takes to fund Maryland’s schools, help its educators, and give its students the resources they need to succeed,” Brittany Marshall, the governor’s senior press secretary, wrote in an email to The Daily Record, “and that means public funding should go to public education.”
House leaders agreed with Moore’s proposal, while Senate leaders said the state shouldn’t decrease funding for the program.
Under Friday’s compromise, next year’s budget will include $9 million for the scholarships, Barnes said.
The program is a lifeline and a life-changer for the families who have received the scholarships, said Nefertari Lee, whose son is “thriving” at college after attending Calvert Hall College High School in Towson with a BOOST scholarship. Lee hopes that families will continue benefiting from the scholarships.
“It is my passion to make sure that parents are aware of the program,” Lee said during a press conference with Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore city, on Friday.
Lee was part of a group of parents and students who have received the scholarships that joined Ferguson for his weekly press conference.
On Thursday, delegates claimed their Senate counterparts stood them up at a meeting.
“We know why we’re sitting here without a Senate. It’s about BOOST,” Barnes said Thursday. “The House believes that public money should go to public schools, and we are going to stand with the governor.”
The General Assembly’s website showed that Barnes’s House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to meet with the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. But, about an hour after the meeting was scheduled to begin, only House members were in attendance.
State Sen. Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, said to reporters on Thursday that he hadn’t agreed to scheduling a meeting.
Come Friday, the issue was resolved, the lawmakers said.
“It’s water under the bridge. We have a deal,” Barnes said to reporters Friday as he stood alongside Guzzone.
The Senate and House had also disagreed over how much money to set aside for transportation projects and for implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a plan for education reform that includes increasing funding for schools by $3.8 billion each year over the next decade.
Moore proposed setting aside an additional $500 million for the Blueprint plan and $500 million for transportation.
Both the Senate and the House voted for more funding for the Blueprint plan and less funding for transportation projects than what Moore proposed.
Barnes and Guzzone said their agreement will include setting aside $900 million above the required contribution for public education and $100 million for transportation projects that can be used for matching federal investments, including for potential light-rail transit systems in southern Maryland and the Baltimore region.
Moore would have the authority to draw another $100 million from the state’s rainy day fund for transportation projects, “should he feel it’s absolutely necessary to meet matches” from the federal government, Guzzone said.