Maryland’s BOOST scholarship program deserves to end | COMMENTARY

Gov. Wes Moore delivers his first State of the State address in the House chamber in the State House. The governor's first budget reduces funding to the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, or BOOST, program, which provides funding for K-12 students to attend private schools. Feb. 4, 2023. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).

Gov. Wes Moore’s decision to reduce funding to Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today or BOOST program, which spends tax dollars to underwrite private school education for selected K-12 students from low-income families, has drawn the kind of criticism that administration officials must have anticipated. Those who have directly benefitted from the 7-year-old program have expressed disappointment. Republicans want to see funding restored and have even called on the Maryland General Assembly to invoke its expanded budget powers to reverse what is essentially a $2 million cut in Fiscal 2024. The governor, meanwhile, appears unmoved by this resistance and recently explained to reporters that his choice to wind down the program (while still supporting current student beneficiaries and their siblings in future years) was not some sop to teacher unions but a recognition that public dollars should be going to building world-class public schools in Maryland.

To which we can only add: Amen.


It would have been far easier for Moore to have sustained BOOST and its $10 million annual price tag. We seriously doubt the Maryland State Education Association or anyone else in the public school establishment would have made much of an issue of it. It’s a relative drop in the bucket in the context of state and local education spending, and represents the kind of direct payoff to constituents that politicians crave. You want a political supporter for life? Give him or her a check to send a child to a preferred school. And we are mindful that BOOST is likely helping some students flourish in a way they may not have in their local public school (although we would underscore “some”). The concept, so promoted by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, also follows the GOP mantra that money or education “vouchers” should follow students so that, as the thinking goes, schools have an economic incentive to produce top results.

Yet such thinking ignores reality. Look around. Maryland’s top and lowest performing K-12 schools are public schools. What distinguishes the good from the bad? Input. Schools that draw from affluent communities excel. Others that serve impoverished neighborhoods wracked by crime and drug addiction where young people lack functioning families, must deal with trauma on a regular basis, lack opportunities and are more likely to qualify for special needs services, often do not. It’s a challenging job, but public educators know that. Yet, what happens to schools if their higher performing students with supportive families are provided a financial incentive to leave? Nothing helpful to the school. It is, in short, a continuation of the exodus that began decades ago as affluent white families fled urban centers to the suburbs.


Much has been made about terrible standardized test scores in Baltimore. The COVID-19 pandemic has been entirely unhelpful in this regard. But misleading reports of those results by certain news outlets, WBFF Fox45 most prominently, tend not to highlight the pandemic context of the most recent Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) results, nor that 10th grade English scores in Baltimore public schools have risen above pre-pandemic 2019 levels, nor how there’s also been some improvement specifically for Black and Hispanic students. Instead, there are usually snide insinuations that city public schools are overfunded — a claim easily refuted by simply inspecting the sorry conditions of too many school buildings.

Maryland has a legal and moral obligation to adequately fund its public schools — all its public schools. Thanks to the multi-year Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and its accompanying multi-billion boost to local school systems, that may yet happen. And it’s a vital program, not only to ensure a more prosperous state but to preserve a democracy that relies on the competency of its citizens. Private schools have a place in this society, too. Many do outstanding work. Those that seek to help students in dire economic circumstances? More power to them; their private fundraisers should be supported. But they are not an obligation of government, nor should they be.

BOOST funding may yet be restored. Senate President Bill Ferguson’s recent comments that funding BOOST versus public schools need not be an “either/or” situation once again reflects the ease with which lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, are willing to spend the public’s money to keep people happy rather than make hard choices. We prefer the clear-eyed view of Maryland’s governor, who does not believe public dollars should be going to private schools. Period.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.