Baltimore, Md - Dec. 14, 2016 - On Tuesday, December 13, Governor Larry Hogan came to Baltimore to join the Jewish day school community in celebrating the success of the BOOST scholarship program. The event was hosted at Bais Yaakov High School and drew a crowd of close to 700 people, comprised of students from several schools, as well as administrators and lay leaders from the nine Baltimore Jewish day schools who participated in the BOOST program.
The BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today) Program was created during the 2016 legislative session in Annapolis and funded by a $5 million allocation in the Governor’s budget.
All Maryland students wishing to attend a nonpublic school - or those already enrolled in a nonpublic school - were eligible to apply for a scholarship as long as their family’s income level did not exceed the eligibility criteria for the federal “free or reduced price school lunch” program. Schools eligible for the program were those whose tuition did not exceed the statewide per-student cost formula for the public schools.
Close to 5,000 applications were submitted during a six-week application period that ended in early July, with nearly 3,000 clearing all of the qualifications. After policies for the program were developed by an advisory board in July and August, scholarship award letters were dispatched to families on a needs-first basis to four categories of students based on income level and whether they were transferring from a public school or staying within the nonpublic schools.
In the Jewish day schools across the state, scholarships were awarded to over 700 students totaling over $1 million.
On Tuesday, the Jewish day school community came out en masse to express their genuine appreciation to Governor Hogan for his role in making the dream of school choice in Maryland come true.
Arriving at Bais Yaakov’s Mount Washington campus in the early afternoon, the Governor was greeted by a sea of hundreds of students in their matching uniforms standing along the school’s driveway and in its parking lot, with many holding up signs and banners welcoming him. He was visibly moved by the warm and excited greeting, commenting later that he had never experienced a welcoming of that magnitude. He was brought to the eleventh grade American History class where he chatted with the students and their teacher, Mrs. Chana Kagan, about their studies and fielded several questions from the girls about Maryland state politics.
The Governor then proceeded to the auditorium where a large and excited crowd awaited him.
The program began with words of greetings from Rabbi Yechezkel Zweig, principal of Bais Yaakov High School, who welcomed the Governor and acknowledged the presence of a number of other state and local elected officials and shared a childhood memory of then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s visit to his Brooklyn Jewish day school. He then called up Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland and president of Maryland CAPE (Council for American Private Education), who served as the program’s emcee.
Rabbi Sadwin gave a brief history of the nine years of advocacy that he and his coalition partners (a group consisting of Agudath Israel of Maryland, the Maryland Catholic Conference, the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Association of Christian School International, the JCRC of Greater Washington, and the Orthodox Union) spent working to pass a program through the state legislature that would provide some relief to the tuition-weary day school community. He spoke about his first encounters with then-businessman Larry Hogan, who on the gubernatorial campaign trail in 2014 won the hearts of many in the community when he pledged to work on behalf of nonpublic school students and families. Rabbi Sadwin told of the challenging process of rolling out the new BOOST program within a short amount of time and the heroic efforts put forth by the staff of the Maryland State Department of Education going above and beyond to get it done.
Continuing the program, groups of students from Cheder Chabad, Bnos Yisroel, and Bais Yaakov were called up separately and they made heartfelt presentations to the Governor expressing their deep appreciation.
Rabbi Michoel Berkowitz, a rebbi/Judaic studies teacher at Talmudical Academy spoke on behalf of the BOOST scholarship parents and expressed their collective gratitude for the BOOST program. He explained how the concept of “hakaras hatov” recognizing and appreciating kindness - is one of our hallmarks as a people, something we express with the dawn of each day and at many other junctures throughout the day. He shared how this program has provided struggling families with hope and opportunities they otherwise would not have.
Rabbi Sadwin then called upon Mrs. Elizabeth Green Esq., vice president of Bnos Yisroel, executive board member of Baltimore Jewish Council, and BOOST advisory board member, to introduce the Governor. As one of the two appointees to the advisory board made by Governor Hogan, Mrs. Green expressed her appreciation for being given the opportunity to play a role in the BOOST program. She then introduced the Governor to a rousing ovation from the crowd.
The Governor opened up his remarks by sharing how overwhelmed he was by the reception and how the endless flow of appreciative words brought him on the verge of tears. He spoke about the closeness he feels to the Jewish community and how meaningful his recent trip to Israel to promote Maryland-Israel business interests was. He then shifted his focus to the BOOST program and the high priority he gives to providing help for students in all types of schools. He then surprised the crowd by publicly announcing for the first time that he will be increasing the budget allocation for the BOOST program from $ 5 million up to $10 million over the next three years. The response from the crowd was deafening as they all stood and cheered at the news of the increased funding. The Governor concluded his remarks by wishing all of the students continued success in their studies and extending warm pre-Chanukah wishes.
Other elected officials joining in the event were State Delegates Shelly Hettleman, Dan Morhaim, Sandy Rosenberg, and Dana Stein, who played a critical role in taking the BOOST proposal and seeing it through the legislative process; State Secretary of the Department of Aging Rona Kramer; and Baltimore City Councilman Yitzy Schleifer.