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Senate: Community Colleges – Tuition Waiver for Disabled Individuals – Requirements

SB 535, Support

The Maryland Catholic Conference offers this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 535.  The Catholic Conference represents the public-policy interests of the three (arch)diocese serving Maryland, including the Archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, which together encompass over one million Marylanders.

Maryland’s Education Article currently affords individuals who are out of the work force due to permanent disability a tuition exemption at any community college.  Despite the tuition exemption, these individuals often have additional education-related expenses for which they are responsible, such as textbooks and supplies, and living expenses, such as rent and utilities. The ability to pay those expenses can prove difficult, as these tuition-exempt students are, by definition, unemployed.

Fortunately, disabled students often receive additional scholarships or grants that enable them to cover those expenses.  However, as it stands, the current law requires that any funds received in the form of scholarships or grants be repaid toward their otherwise-exempted tuition and mandatory fees, leaving them with little or no money to enable them to continue their education.  By removing that required “payment”, Senate Bill 535 would enable these disabled individuals to complete their education.  

The Church prioritizes care for the most vulnerable among us, including the disabled members of our society.  Pope Francis has stated that “today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless.  As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities.”  (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 53). 

The State of Maryland has long established itself as a leader in providing for those who might find themselves otherwise marginalized in today’s society.  It should continue to implement policies that promote opportunity for such people, particularly in the area of education.  It is for the aforementioned reasons that we urge this Committee to report favorably on Senate Bill 535.