The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 706. The Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.
Senate Bill 706 seeks to expand educational options for lower-income students. In order to fund those educational options through private investment dollars and without direct General Fund expenditure, this legislation would allow Maryland businesses to claim a tax credit equal to 60% of their donations to student assistance organizations, which either serve public school students or nonpublic school students. This tax credit would incentivize private businesses to fund educational options far above the current allowable deduction.
With regard to assistance for public school students, the business-investment proposal outlined in Senate Bill 706 would fund either a.) innovative programs that enhance and enrich curriculum at public schools, such as STEM programs, ESL programs, prekindergarten programs, or vocational training, for example, or 2.) nonprofit entities that serve public school students through educational instruction, tutoring and/or mentoring, either as in-school or after-school programs.
With regard to expansion of scholarship opportunities for nonpublic school students or those students who desire the option to attend a nonpublic school, nonprofit student assistance organizations would accept donations and then scholarships assistance would be given to FARMS-eligible, lower-income families on a priority basis. This would afford families greater ability to choose whatever educational option is best suited for their child. The demand for the same has been proven in Maryland year after year, as tens of thousands of parents apply to take advantage of scholarship opportunities, often finding limited availability. Moreover, this tax credit program would also allow a greater number of families access to prekindergarten, something our legislature has worked hard to expand in recent years.
As evidenced by recent events in our state and polling conducted on the Education Credit proposal last fall, showing that nearly 7 in 10 Maryland voters support the measure, the time is now to expand educational options. This is particularly true in the some predominately lower-income and minority areas of the state, wherein voter support was above the statewide average. Details of the polling are also attached to this testimony.
Moreover, both the need for this legislation and the desire for families to have expanded educational options are exemplified when looking to this recent student assistance requests in Maryland’s Catholic dioceses alone. Last year, requests by lower income families who sought the option for their children to attend a Catholic school topped $85 million, collectively. As donor and business investment is not currently incentivized by more than the standard charitable deduction, only about 10% of that need could be met for those students and families.
The Catholic Conference maintains that every child has a right to an education that best suits his or her needs. The State of Maryland owes it to ALL of its students to provide the best educational opportunities that it can foster, which is what each of this legislative proposal seeks to accomplish.
The Maryland Catholic Conference thus urges a favorable report for Senate Bill 706.