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Maryland lawmakers reached a deal on education spending



After a brief, public standoff late Thursday, Maryland Democrats reached a budget deal Friday that cuts 10 percent from a controversial school voucher program that gives low-income students scholarships to attend private schools.

The deal ends a simmering, weeks-long fight over whether to continue the program in its current form or begin to unwind it. With the stalemate resolved — and $9 million designated for the scholarship program — the state’s $63 billion budget is able to head toward final passage in the next few days. The budget dramatically increases the state’s education spending overall.

The disagreement had exposed divisions in the Democratic supermajority in Annapolis over how best to funnel record investments into education.

Gov. Wes Moore (D) proposed a 20 percent cut to the seven-year-old, $10 million scholarship program called Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today, or BOOST.

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Moore argued that Maryland is pouring billions of dollars into transforming its public schools through its Blueprint for Maryland’s Future program. He said public money should be used to improve schools for everyone, not offer private-school options to a few. The scholarship program had doubled since 2016.


Moore’s plan would have spent $8 million to continue providing scholarships to current students and their siblings with the intent to phase it out, a goal shared with the state’s influential teachers union. House Democrats agreed with him and staged a public, one-sided negotiating session late Thursday to reiterate their position. Senators did not show up and later said they had not agreed to attend.

Maryland Senators view the BOOST program as a way to provide equity for poor students who live in failing school districts.

The participants, according to the state, come from families with an average income of about $34,600. Proponents view the $10 million program as a modest alternative for some students, arguing that the state can afford expenditure alongside the hundreds of millions of dollars that taxpayers are pouring into a long-term effort to revamp public schools.

“We can do both,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said at a news conference heralding the program, just minutes before negotiators announced a deal had already been reached.

It was not immediately clear Friday afternoon whether the $9 million for the BOOST program would be enough to expand the number of families participating next year or if that amount would serve only families already in the program.

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Haggling over a few million dollars for the voucher program was the key sticking point in an otherwise cordial budget season.


Both sides also agreed to set aside $900 million in a savings account to pay for Blueprint in four years, when the state is otherwise expected to run out of money to pay for it.

The multibillion Blueprint is huge and complicated, allocating cash for many programs including providing higher pay for tutors, better teacher training, higher pay for teachers, wraparound services for lower-income children, apprenticeship programs and universal prekindergarten for 4-year-olds.

The budget still must get a final approval by the General Assembly before it adjourns its annual 90-day legislative session on April 10.

Source: Washington Post


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