Baltimore, MD - Apr. 16, 2021 - Earlier this week, the Maryland General Assembly completed the 2021 legislative session in Annapolis. After COVID cut the 2020 session short, no effort was spared by the executive and legislative branches of our state government to ensure that the 2021 session would go on in a safe and effective manner.
While our participation as “distance-lobbyists” certainly had its share of challenges, we watched - day in and day out - the impressive dedication and perseverance that was on constant display from the legislators and their staff.
The 2021 session was Agudah Maryland’s fourteenth, but it was one which primarily saw the most intense debate focused on issues where our community does not have an established political philosophy (eg. police reform, sports betting, criminal justice, parole decisions, to name but a few).
Our legislative goals were focused on maintaining and expanding the programs that are vital to our community, and ensuring that our way of life is protected
State Tuition Assistance-BOOST
Precisely five years ago, a new program was created: a nonpublic school scholarship program called BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today). The initial allocation was $5 million. In the years since, we’ve struggled in our efforts to expand the funding of the program. Each year, Governor Hogan allocates $10 million to the budget, only to have it cut down by the legislature. This time, however, the Governor pushed a bit harder and was able to secure the full allocation. We look forward to seeing many more students receive their due scholarships as a result of the additional $3 million added to the program.
The other private school benefit programs – the textbook/technology program and the aging school facilities grant, were level funded for an additional $9.5 million.
With school and shul safety a constant concern and priority, we are pleased that three separate state funded security programs once again received their due allocations. The nonpublic school safety improvement grant received $3.5 million, and the two additional security programs for entities considered to be at risk of a hate crime – one which benefits schools and another which also helps shuls and other non-profits – were level funded at $2 million and $3 million respectively. These programs, in addition to the increased funding of the federal NPSG (Non-Profit Security Grant), have provided our institutions and facilities with all of the tools needed to do "their part" towards protecting our people.
529 Tuition Savings
Ever since the changes to the federal tax code in 2017, Maryland's 529 college investment program has also been a source of great benefit to those who invest in elementary and secondary education. This year the program once again withstood the threat of legislation removing K - 12 students from utilizing the generous benefits of Maryland's 529 program.
However, legislation to modify access to the state contribution portion of the 529 program, known to many as the “Maryland Match”, passed the legislature. Most prominently, the eligibility criteria was changed, and a lifetime cap per account holder was implemented. All of the information on that can be found on our website.
Preserving Religious Liberty
Perhaps the most important issue for an organization tasked to represent a community such as ours and its institutions, is to ensure that our spiritual identity is preserved and that we can remain true to our religious mission. Agudah Maryland invested extensive time, effort, and resources this session to address potentially harmful legislation that would have effectively erased the unique character of private, religious schools. The bill attempted to impose uniform admission policies in all Maryland schools - both public and private - without allowing for appropriate safeguards. While efforts to bolster these protections made progress and areas of compromise were found, the legislation ultimately did not come up for a vote on the Senate floor.
COVID-19 Relief Bills
Throughout the many months of the pandemic, several major federal COVID–relief bills have been enacted to address a host of critical areas of need. We are indeed gratified that the needs of private schools families have not been ignored at such a critical time by congressional leaders of both parties. In Maryland, that has evolved into millions of dollars being allocated for use by our schools. In Agudah Maryland’s dual role representing the Jewish schools and as chair of the private school coalition, we continue to work with our partners and state education officials to ensure that the relief funds made available are allocated in a manner that serves the best interests and most vital needs of our schools.
Thank you for your interest in the work of Agudah Maryland, and thank you for being our trusted partner in protecting, advocating, and serving the needs of the community.
We wish you and yours continued good health, and a safe and successful completion of the school year!
Rabbi Ariel Sadwin
Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Agudath Israel of Maryland