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Support for Nonpublic Student Textbook Program Funding

By Ellen Robertson, Associate Director of Education and Family Life

House Appropriations Subcommittee, February 18, 2010, and Senate Budget and Taxation Subcommittee, February 22, 2010

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the bishops serving Maryland from the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington. We offer this testimony on behalf of the families of the over 55,000 students served by Maryland’s 158 PreK-12 Catholic schools.

We are here today to urge your support for the $4.4 million allocated in the FY 2011 budget for the Nonpublic Student Textbook Program.

We are grateful to the members of this committee and the many other members of the General Assembly who have continued to support this program. At a minimal cost to the state, this program benefits the families of more than 90,000 students attending approximately 355 nonpublic schools in Maryland. We are also grateful to the administrators at the Maryland State Department of Education for their efforts to ensure that this program operates efficiently and with great accountability.

Originally allocated at $6 million in the FY 2001 budget, funding for this program over the following three years was reduced to a low of $3.6 million in FY 2009. At the same time, the number of students benefiting from the program has increased by more than 10,000 students, from 77,393 students attending 257 schools in FY 2001 to more than 90,000 students at 355 schools in FY 2009.

Funding in the current FY 2010 budget is $4.4 million which translates to an approximate $43 per pupil allocation for non-FARMS schools; the budget before you today is level funded and for this we are most appreciative. We would urge you to protect the program’s allocation which benefits so many school families and students.

The support provided through this program is urgently needed by the Catholic school community in Maryland. As tuitions continue to rise to meet the increasing costs of teacher salaries coupled with the ongoing financial stresses families’ face, our school enrollments show that more and more families are unable to afford these increases, especially at the elementary level. Catholic school elementary enrollment has decreased by more than 6,000 students in the past five years while more than 22 Catholic schools have closed or merged in the state.

The benefits provided through this program certainly are not going to provide a total solution to the needs of our school community but your support of this funding is an important step in recognizing that the health of Maryland’s nonpublic school community is of vital importance to our state, and even to the well being of our public school system. Inevitably, nonpublic school enrollment decreases and school closings will increase costs for local public schools, where resources, budgets and space are already strained.

Here in Maryland, and throughout the country, the Catholic community is committed to finding innovative and lasting solutions to the challenges our schools are facing, and to continuing our schools’ long-standing tradition of serving lower-and middle-income families. We urge you to support the Nonpublic Student Textbook program as one way in which the State of Maryland can partner with us in those efforts. This program and the assistance it brings directly to our school families is worthy of our state’s support.

Again, we thank you for your past support and commitment to this program, and we urge you to retain the full $4.4 million allocated for the program in this year’s budget.