As the old song goes, “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
The flurry of state elections and caucuses on March 1 cause that day to be called “Super Tuesday,” but a presidential campaign season marked by personal insults and attempts to divide people based on their religion, immigration status, gender economic worth, and fear and anger, has been disheartening.
Something totally different unfolded as the next day, Wednesday March 2, dawned in Annapolis, Maryland. About 700 students came together from across the state for Nonpublic School Advocacy Day, to rally for measures that would increase educational opportunities for children and families in public and private schools, including the Maryland Education Credit and the BOOST (Broadening Options and Opportunity for Students and Teachers) bills that have been introduced in the General Assembly.
The students, joined by parents, teachers and principals, came from urban, suburban and rural schools, from Jewish, Islamic, Christian, Catholic and independent private schools, and represented a wide array of racial and ethnic backgrounds. They stood together, for the kids and the families in the state. Rabbi Ariel Sadwin who addressed the crowd noted that they represented a “united front.” The rabbi – who serves as the president of Maryland CAPE (Council for American Private Education) – said in an interview, “Everyone comes together for the best of the children, in order for them to be educated in an atmosphere most suitable for their growth.”
According to CAPE, Maryland’s nonpublic schools serve nearly 100,000 students across the state in grades K-12 and save taxpayers approximately $1.5 billion annually, based on per pupil costs for public schools.
The kids wearing their school uniforms and bundled in winter coats on a brisk morning, gathered at the outdoor rally in Lawyers’ Mall and chanted “Give Kids the Credit!” as members of the State Senate and House of Delegates walked by on their way to that morning’s sessions in their chambers.
In a striking way, those children represented the face of the future of Maryland, and also echoed the results of a statewide poll conducted this past August, that found that nearly 70 percent of Marylanders supported the Maryland Education Credit – a large majority that cut across regions, demographics and party lines.
The bipartisan appeal of the education proposals was represented by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a Republican, and Maryland State Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat, who addressed the crowd, as did many legislators.
One of the sponsors of House Bill 1343 proposing the Maryland Education Credit – Del. Antonio Hayes (D-District 40, Baltimore City) said the legislation would “give an opportunity for young people to get a quality education” and have access to innovative educational programs in the state, and in a later interview, spoke about how education can help lift children out of poverty, an issue that is close to his heart, since he represents a district that includes neighborhoods affected by last year’s riots in Baltimore.
Also at the rally, Del. Nicholaus Kipke, a Republican who serves as the Minority Leader in the House of Delegates and represents District 31B in Anne Arundel County, said, “We want to ensure that every student from every neighborhood has the best opportunity to succeed and have a great future.”
The Maryland Education Credit is being proposed by Gov. Hogan’s Administration in House Bill 453; and by companion bills being put forward by State Senator Ed DeGrange (D-District 32, Anne Arundel County) in Senate Bill 706 and by Del. Hayes and by Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11, Baltimore County) in House Bill 1343. Those bills differ slightly, but both would provide a tax credit to Maryland businesses, with funding going to nonprofit organizations that would provide financial assistance to nonpublic school students, with a priority for children from low-income families; and the measures would also provide funding for things like tutoring, technology and innovative programs for public school students. The bills are patterned after successful programs in 16 states.
BOOST is a new proposal sponsored by Del. Keith Haynes (D-District 44A, Baltimore City) that would allow Maryland to sell $50 million worth of tax credits over five years to establish a fund that would provide full tuition scholarships to low-income students to attend nonpublic schools.
The Maryland Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Washington support all those measures that would expand educational opportunities to children and families in the state. Garrett O’Day, the associate director for the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Department of Education, Children and Families, said, “It’s clear, particularly from recent events around our state, that students need educational options. This is particularly the case in low-income and predominantly minority areas of the state. This legislation would deliver those options.”
William Ryan, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, was among Catholic school officials attending the advocacy day. He said he hopes that “legislators will see that this is something their constituents want as witnessed by the support it’s received.” The program, he noted, does not take any money from public schools, but provides assistance for public and non-public school students.
The student lobbyists who left the outdoor rally to fan out to their legislators’ offices got to the heart of the matter. Students from St. Patrick School in Rockville unfurled a petition that they had signed in support of the measures, and they chanted, “It’s a win-win for students, businesses and the state.”
After visiting the office of one of her delegates, eighth grader Jasmine Flores from St. Mary School in Landover Hills said, “It can help parents who want to put their children in a better school, to have a better future for them.”
The students had rallied that morning in Lawyers’ Mall, near a bronze statue of Thurgood Marshall, the Baltimore native who as counsel to the NAACP argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, leading to the Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Marshall later served as the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice from 1967-91.
The struggle to expand educational opportunities for children goes on, and the schoolchildren who rallied in Annapolis sent a message to legislators that now is the time to “Give Kids the Credit,” a message we hope that they hear and act on.