ANNAPOLIS — The rift between public and private education couldn’t be much larger than it is in Maryland, where the public schools are boasted about as No. 1 in the nation and the private schools receive less state funding than several neighboring states.
“Looking at other states when it comes to education, Maryland state government provides significantly less to support private education,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference.
Russell offered some numbers for context: Pennsylvania puts about $300 million toward private education, New York puts $180 million, New Jersey provides about $150 million. And then there’s Maryland, which allocates about $4.4 million state dollars for non-public education. That’s 7/100 of 1 percent of the $6 billion Maryland supplies to public K-12.
That $4.4 million goes toward Maryland’s Nonpublic Student Textbook Program, indirectly funding the purchase of a moderate number of textbooks and learning technologies. Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed a $1.1 million increase in fiscal 2014 but the House of Delegates cut all the increased aid, the Senate restored the funding, and the difference must be worked out in a conference committee this week.
It’s not enough, says the private school community. The need for materials and government support in the non-public sphere is much greater than $4.4 million could meet, according to many private school advocates.
“While the $4 million is a real benefit, it’s definitely insufficient given the needs of our families,” said Mary Ellen Hrutka, the executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Catholic Schools consortium.
“Parents are paying for it,” said Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, the director of Agudath Israel of Maryland’s Commission on Legislation and Civic Action. “In some cases, the students have to take a role in generating income for the school, because the tuition that the families pay doesn’t cut it.”
For years, private school advocates have been involved in legislative initiatives to expand the current textbook program and establish other ways to financially support private education in Maryland. Among the initiatives were efforts to establish a tax credit program for business contributions based on the nationwide private school voucher program BOAST — or Building Opportunities for All Students and Teachers. The measure passed the Senate in 2010, but was not introduced this year.
Some education advocates, however, staunchly oppose state funding to private schools, on the principle that the general public’s tax dollars should not be funding private institutions.
“Most of us that support public education believe that public dollars should go to public schools,” said Rick Tyler, a Maryland public education advocate.
“It’s written in the Maryland constitution that public education should be funded by tax dollars.”
Groups opposing the expansion of state funding for non-public schools also bring up the question of accountability within private education.
“The biggest problem is that there’s no accountability for the spending in private schools,” said Amy Maloney, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA).
“With all public dollars being spent there’s always a level of accountability that is expected. Whether it be test scores, the textbooks they use, teacher qualifications, or student attendance — there’s just no regulation.”