Del. James Proctor Jr., right, a lead sponsor of BOAST legislation in Maryland's House of Delegates, meets on March 4 with Cardinal Hickey Academy students. Sen. James E. DeGrange is a lead sponsor of the BOAST bill in the State Senate.
Del. James Proctor Jr., right, a lead sponsor of BOAST legislation in Maryland's House of Delegates, meets on March 4 with Cardinal Hickey Academy students. Sen. James E. DeGrange is a lead sponsor of the BOAST bill in the State Senate.
About 600 students, teachers, and parents from across the state rallied in Annapolis on March 4 in support of the BOAST (Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers) Maryland tax credit and met with their legislators to ask them to support the BOAST legislation. Nearly 150 students from Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Washington joined the rally and legislative reception in Annapolis in support of House Bill 1259 and Senate Bill 715.

In an interview, Patricia Weitzel-O'Neill, the superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Washington, said the BOAST program "will provide a funding support for tuition assistance for those children in Maryland who are the neediest" and who want to attend a nonpublic school. Weitzel-O'Neill said the BOAST tax credit would give the priority to those who are the poorest and would provide revenue tuition assistance for those in the greatest need in Maryland.

Secondly, Weitzel-O'Neill said BOAST will "help to ensure the future of nonpublic [schools] in such a way that they will be available as an option for all families." The archdiocesan superintendent also noted that the tax credit will attract businesses to the state. "Maryland wins," she said, because "businesses will move and locate in your state." She said the tax credit will give businesses the opportunity to be partners in the educational endeavors in the community.

In the end, Weitzel-O'Neill noted, BOAST will save the state millions of dollars.

BOAST is a tax credit for businesses that would provide economic assistance to lower- and middle- income families who find it increasingly challenging to send their children to a Catholic or other nonpublic school. The funds would also go toward enrichment programs for students in public schools and help teachers in both public and nonpublic schools by increasing access to professional development opportunities. BOAST is especially important as some private schools in the state face the prospect of closing.

A group of 13 students from Cardinal Hickey Academy in Owings attended the legislative reception on March 4. Kathy Knight, a Cardinal Hickey parent who also serves as the executive director of the BOAST Maryland Coalition (which sponsored the reception on March 4), said students prepared ahead of time for their meetings with legislators. Knight said the students met outside of school where they had the BOAST legislation and legislative process explained to them, and made short scripts to say to the legislators.

Knight said students learned how the BOAST tax credit will work by using a cash register and role playing. She said the students role played "so they could see how the tax credit would benefit everybody, and that seemed to make a difference for them."

When the Cardinal Hickey students met with their legislators, they first thanked them for their previous support of BOAST. Then they began their skit by saying, "This is what BOAST means to us." They said public school students win through increased support for enrichment programs, private schools win through increased need-based scholarships for students, businesses win through receiving a tax credit and enjoying a thriving local educational system which will attract new residents and employees, and taxpayers win through sustained enrollment in public schools saving taxpayers money, and public and private school teachers win through increased support for teacher scholarships and professional development opportunities.

One student told each legislator during the skit that Cardinal Hickey Academy saves taxpayers $2.8 million annually. Another student said BOAST would help a friend who had to leave Cardinal Hickey Academy for financial reasons.

One legislator the students met with, Del. Joseph Vallario Jr. (District 27A), said he went to a Catholic grade school and high school. He also said his six children attended St. John the Evangelist School in Clinton. "I'm very much up on your concerns, and I assure you that you have my support," he told the Cardinal Hickey students. The other two legislators the students met with also said they would support the BOAST legislation.

A parent traveling with the group from Cardinal Hickey, Sue Wisniewski, said about the BOAST legislation, "We feel it's very important. It benefits everyone all around."

At St. Matthias Apostle School in Lanham, eight students with their parents attended the March 4 legislative reception. Michelle Doran, the eighth grade teacher at the school who led the group, said, "I think it's really important that they learn how the political process works, and they learn that they can have a voice in this process."

Students from St. Patrick's School in Rockville made a petition signed by all of the students to give to the legislators that went all the way into the conference room. Nancy Mixson, who led the group, said about the students' visit, "They liked to see how BOAST could be passed in the State Senate." Mixson said students also took a quiz about how BOAST would impact them.

Fifth grader Zachery Hill of St. Michael's School in Ridge made the two-hour trek to Annapolis with his father, Chris Hill. Lila Ridgell Hofmeister, the principal, later said the BOAST legislation is "another way for us to garner revenue to help us stay open."

The BOAST bill was heard in the House Ways and Means Committee on March 10.

During the hearing, Del. James Proctor (Dist. 27A), the lead sponsor of the House bill, said the bill would authorize the program without funding due to the poor economic climate. He said that will put the program in place for when the economy is back on track. Del. Proctor said the BOAST bill benefits both public and private schoolchildren, noting that it is "for all of our children." He also noted that the BOAST bill will benefit afterschool programs.

During the hearing, a student from the new Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School in Takoma Park, cosponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington and the Salesians of Don Bosco, and the assistant principal at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, testified in favor of the bill.

Mary Ellen Russell, the executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said the bill requires "incredible urgency...This bill is about giving people chances," she said.