BOOST Scholarship Program Faces Funds Depletion Amid Surge in Applications

By FOX45
Posted on 08/21/23 | News Source: FOX45

The state’s scholarship fund to help lower-income families utilize non-public schools will be depleted before new students receive a boost, according to the board making award decisions.

The Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today program, or BOOST, was at risk of budget cuts during the last legislative session after Gov. Wes Moore proposed phasing out the program. After legislative debate, and families rallying in Annapolis to keep the funding, the program received $9 million in appropriation for the 2023-2024 school year and the language phasing out the program was removed from the final budget.

Despite the elimination of the phase-out language, current trends and funding availability may indicate the program won’t grow.

During the July BOOST Advisory Board meeting, “extreme demand” for scholarships was revealed and the number of applicants hit new highs. According to the meeting, 7,036 applications for BOOST scholarships were received and it was determined 4,741 applicants were eligible.

According to BOOST data, there were about 6,000 applications received last year and as of Jan. 5, 2023, just over $10 million in scholarships were awarded to 3,248 students for the 2022-2023 school year.

Given the number of applicants, the BOOST Advisory Board determined that the scholarship fund could not fund any new applicants looking for assistance; only students who received BOOST scholarships last year and those students’ siblings will be considered for awards.

“Available funding in the program's budget and the priorities in the law set parameters for the awards. Based on those parameters, the BOOST Board was able to award scholarships to siblings of current awardee,” according to a statement from the BOOST Advisory Board. “However, in prioritizing scholarships there is not sufficient funding available for siblings of former awardees.”

During the last General Assembly session, Gov. Moore argued that public dollars should not be going toward private education.

“Public dollars should be going to ensuring that we are building a world-class public school system for everyone,” Moore said.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, executive director of Agudath Isarel of Maryland, pushed back on the governor’s description of the usage of the BOOST scholarship.

“There’s so many programs where public dollars are going toward private uses and this is students, this is the future of our state,” Sadwin said.

There are these students who are crying out saying we want this opportunity, let us have this opportunity, Rabbi Sadwin said.

Rabbi Sadwin argued the high interest in the BOOST program should come as a clear message to lawmakers in Annapolis to not only fund the program, but add to the account.

“This is a program that has worked, and the interest is very high. We’re hopeful that that speaks volumes going into the next session,” Sadwin said. “[We’re hoping this sends] a message saying that we’ve got to make this a permanent program and we need to put more than $9 million into this program.”

According to the BOOST Advisory Board, there will be another review of the scholarship availability as families accept or reject their funding.