With Maryland on track to spend a record amount of money on education over the next two years, the big question for the Jewish community is how that money should be spent.
One of the main components of Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) $6.3 billion budget initiative to improve K-12 education and make college affordable is a tax credit program for citizens, businesses and nonprofits that make donations to public and nonpublic schools. The governor’s bill also would finance the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, program through a series of grants and payment of dual enrollment costs by county school boards.
The tax credit program would phase in the funding at $5 million the first year, $10 million the second year and $15 million starting in 2018 with roughly 60 percent going to nonpublic schools and 40 percent to public schools. The public school funding would be put toward “basic education needs,” such as textbooks, supplies, technology and tutoring, according to the bill
Sarah Mersky, director of government relations for the Baltimore Jewish Council, said there is a difference between the governor’s proposal and a similar bill from state Sen. James DeGrange (D-32) and Del. Antonio Hayes (D-40) that would allocate up to $15 million in any given year through tax credit program much like the governor’s. The DeGrange-Hayes bill would fund “innovative programs” in public schools such as tutoring, mentoring and after-school programs, Mersky said.
“A few legislators suggested that public school parents would not go through the trouble of applying for assistance for books or school supplies, which is why DeGrange’s bill changed that language” from supplies to tutoring, Mersky said.
Mersky said a number of Jewish day schools will benefit from either proposal if their tuition is below $14,000, the state’s annual per-pupil average on spending. She said both bills give priority to students who meeting food stamp eligibility requirements.
“For us it’s not just important in helping Jewish schools for the area but it’s the right thing to do for our state,” she said. “The need is great and the need is there. All of the polling on this shows that the state supports this.”
The two bills are the state’s latest attempt to pass an education credit bill, with the Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers (BOAST) bill having failed to make it to committee when it was brought up in 2010 session.
Both the BJC and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington have supported BOAST in the past.
JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber said the leadership in the House of Delegates will be reluctant to support the governor’s bill this year. He said that the JCRC has not taken a formal position on the bill, but has long supported education tax credits.
“We believe a properly administered business tax credit for contributions to public and nonpublic education, meeting specific criteria does not present a conflict between our commitment to support public education and our commitment to strengthening our Jewish community,” he said.
Halber added that the JCRC may support the $5 million that would fund the program this year, but has not looked at the governor’s proposal in detail.