Maryland's Boost is Promising, But More Work is Needed

12 Pages Posted: 28 Apr 2020

See all articles by Russell M. Rhine

Russell M. Rhine

St. Mary's College of Maryland - Department of Economics

Date Written: February 26, 2020

Abstract

In 2016, Maryland’s educational freedom ranking rose to 46th place—above New York, Hawaii, California, and New Jersey—from 50th in the Cato Institute’s Freedom in the 50 States index. The improvement was due to the state’s adoption of the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) voucher program that helps pay K–12 private school expenses for low‐​income households. Since Maryland does not offer interdistrict or intradistrict school choice, the addition of vouchers has significantly improved its level of educational freedom.

Private school vouchers remain controversial. Voucher supporters argue that more school choice increases the likelihood of finding a school that best accommodates children’s individual educational needs, whereas opponents suggest that vouchers redirect public school money and subsidize private school tuition for well‐​off families. Opponents further claim that students do not benefit academically.

BOOST was designed to address many of those concerns. Because the voucher’s cost is less than the marginal cost of educating a student in a public school, the voucher program actually strengthens public school finances; from 2016 to 2019, BOOST netted nearly $6 million in budgetary savings. Because eligibility is dependent on the student qualifying for free or reduced‐​price meals, vouchers are only available to low‐​income families. And although more than half of voucher recipients were already attending private school, most of the funding went to transferring public school students, who qualify for much larger awards.

Families’ educational preferences and children’s needs vary, and one‐​size‐​fits‐​all government institutions often fail to provide the desired education in the most appropriate setting. Empowering parents and children to choose private options over their neighborhood public schools lets them decide what they value in education.

Compared to other states’ voucher programs, Maryland’s is on the lower end of student participation and budgetary savings, but it is not at the bottom. Average BOOST spending, excluding the budgetary savings from reduced public school enrollment, amounts to less than one‐​tenth of 1 percent of Maryland’s elementary‐ and secondary‐​school budget. BOOST clearly has room to grow. With three years of program experience and applying lessons learned, expanding BOOST would better serve Maryland taxpayers and children.

Keywords: education, private school, public school, charter school, voucher program, Maryland, MD

JEL Classification: I00, I2, I20, I21, I22, I24, I25, I28, I29

Suggested Citation

Rhine, Russell M., Maryland's Boost is Promising, But More Work is Needed (February 26, 2020). Cato Institute, Policy Analysis No.885, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3567180 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3567180

Russell M. Rhine (Contact Author)

St. Mary's College of Maryland - Department of Economics ( email )

18952 E. Fisher Road
St. Mary's City, MD 20686-3001
United States

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