March 15, 2012
Good afternoon, Madam Chair, Members of the Committee. My name is Fr. Steve Shafran and I am the President of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takmoa Park, Maryland.
On behalf of the more than 21,000 students attending Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington and the 310 students at our school, as well as their families, I am grateful for the opportunity to come before you today to encourage your SUPPORT of House Bill 1216.
Before doing so, I offer a special word of thanks to Delegate Walker for his continued and passionate support of this legislation.
Catholic schools in Maryland provide an outstanding education to more than 51,000 Maryland children--at a savings to the tax-paying citizens of our state of more than $719 million in per-pupil expenses.
Catholic schools educate children of families at both ends of the financial spectrum, and all points in between. Many of the children we serve come from families with very little financial means, whose parents work multiple jobs to be able to send their children to our schools because they believe the education their children will receive will end the cycle of poverty that has gripped their family for generations.
As well, middle-class, taxpaying families, though not poor, also struggle mightily to send their children to Catholic schools, especially at a time when everything else in household budgets seems to be on the rise.
Our schools are educating children at a fraction of the cost of the state, producing outstanding academic results---test scores near the top nationally and exceptional graduation rates—and all three Maryland-serving dioceses offer generous financial aid to families, but for many it is still not enough to bridge the affordability gap in today’s economy.
Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School is located in Takoma Park, Maryland. It is part of the nationally acclaimed Cristo Rey Network model which began in Chicago in 1996. It very intentionally serves poor families with the goal of preparing students for success through college and transforming their lives. The College prep curriculum is enhanced by the Corporate Work Study Program through which students support a part of their own educational costs but that is not enough as we cannot rely on tuition that so many private schools depend on, as the majority of our families are in financial need. We find that our inner city students reap tremendous benefits through the professional work and the skills garnered with the Corporate partners that gives them motivation and confidence to succeed in the classroom as well as the soft skills that will serve them well in life. Our students are working throughout the Washington metro area in businesses such as Clark Construction, Boland, Presidio,
Choice Hotels, Brickman Group, Coakley and Williams Construction, Fitzgerald Auto Mall, Honest Tea, Impact Office products, M&T Bank, Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office, Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s office, and SAIC – to name a few of those with locations in Maryland .
The diverse student population and the needs of their economic level are the very reason that the school was established in 2007. Don Bosco Cristo Rey celebrated its historic first graduation last June and I am happy to report that 100% of the Class of 2011 was accepted to College. 83% are currently enrolled in College and desire to stay local – they attend the University of Maryland – College Park and Eastern Shore, Georgetown University, Trinity University, Catholic University, Montgomery Community College and Prince Georges Community College, University of the District of Columbia, Bowie State University, and Mount St. Mary’s University to name a few in our area and in Maryland. They were awarded over $3.5 million in merit and need based scholarships. These are phenomenal statistics for a new high school only in its fifth year. The demand for the program is growing rapidly. We will welcome over 130 new students next year as we will grow to and maintain a student body of 500 in the near future, in this way we can provide our students with the personal attention they deserve. Our goal is to prepare the future workforce as well as productive citizens for our diverse community.
69% of students who attend Don Bosco Cristo Rey come from Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties. 78% of our students qualify for free and reduced price lunch programs. The median annual family income for a Don Bosco Cristo Rey family of four is under $38,000. As you can see, we are not speaking of an affluent private school population but rather students and their families who understand the value of an exceptional education in a safe environment in order to become productive members of society. If these students did not attend Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School and Corporate Work Study Program they would not have the opportunity for personal guidance, the motivation of the professional workplace and the environment critical for preparation for College and beyond.
This bill would enable Don Bosco Cristo Rey to continue serving the many lower and middle-income families in our school. House Bill 1216 will provide a critically important tool for increasing business donations to scholarship organizations that assist nonpublic and public school students from lower and middle income families. This initiative represents an opportunity for the education community, the State of Maryland and the business community to form a partnership in order to provide high-quality education to all Maryland students, regardless of zip code. House Bill 1216 would help stabilize enrollments in the schools serving children with the greatest needs while enabling our schools to continue their vital presence in troubled neighborhoods.
As President of Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School I have seen countless lives changed by student’s experiences in the school. I know each of you are committed to education and want for our children what those in Catholic schools want: to provide the students we serve with the educational opportunities to realize their full potential in order to become better people and better citizens.