Good schools deserve investment [Commentary]

Maryland should enact an education tax credit that would help both public and non-public schools

September 28, 2014|By William E. Lori

This weekend over 700 people were scheduled to attend our 6th annual Archdiocese of Baltimore Gala to raise money for students who otherwise could not afford to attend a Catholic school in the Archdiocese. Since its inception, the gala has raised more than $4.2 million in tuition assistance and endowment for Catholic schools.

The gala is just one way the archdiocese is helping children from low-income families benefit from a Catholic school education. Another is the Partners in Excellence (PIE) scholarship program. Since PIE's creation in 1996 by Cardinal William H. Keeler, 14th archbishop of Baltimore, the archdiocese and more than 400 businesses and private philanthropists have provided over $25 million in partial, need-based scholarships to thousands of families in Baltimore City.

In addition, the two-year archdiocesan-wide capital campaign that is nearing completion has raised $50 million for Catholic schools to-date, half of which will fund an endowment for tuition assistance benefiting families throughout the archdiocese.

Why do we do this? The Catholic Church makes this commitment because it is integral to two key mission priorities: education and service to those in need. We do it because every human person is deserving of the dignity that comes through education, employment and service to the common good. We do it because we understand that a quality, values-based education taught in a safe and loving environment can literally changes lives, families and the communities in which we live.

Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore are worth the investment. Ninety-nine percent of our students graduated and went on to attend college last year. All of our students participate in a community outreach program and leave our schools with an appreciation for the value of serving others. Our schools are educating tomorrow's workforce.

In 2010, we asked the Sage Policy Group to measure the quantitative impact of our schools. Sage found that in one year, Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore save Maryland taxpayers over $380 million in per pupil expenses (Catholic and other nonpublic schools statewide save Maryland $1.5 billion) and provide an additional $393.3 million into the local economy in income and revenue annually. The study also projected that over a 10-year period, the total number of Catholic school graduates over that time period will earn $5.2 billion more than the same number of public school graduates.

It is precisely for these benefits to the wider community that many states provide funding to Catholic and other nonpublic schools. Nearby, New York ($207 million), New Jersey ($164.3 million) and Pennsylvania ($340.4 million) dwarfed the contributions of Maryland ($9.5 million) last school year. And Virginia has allocated $25 million per year through 2028 for its new education tax credit, passed into law two years ago. While these states enable schools to reduce tuition because of funding that supports technology, transportation and academic programs and services, as well as tax credits and scholarships, Maryland's support is limited to textbooks and repairs to aging school buildings, the equivalent of $92 a student.

While we are grateful for the support, we can't help pointing out the glaring disparity in the amount of funding provided by neighboring states. Catholic schools serve students of all faiths, are academically excellent and benefit the state economically, socially and in countless other ways. It is in the interest of the state to see them succeed, and the current funding model for these schools places the financial burden on the backs of taxpaying parents. Consider that for every 70 students who move from a nonpublic school to a public school, Maryland and its taxpayers pay an additional $1 million every year. From 2007-2008 to 2012-2013, enrollment in nonpublic schools declined by 28,467 students. Many of these schools will continue to fail under the current funding model, which is why Maryland should follow the 14 states that have enacted some form of education tax credit for individuals and corporations.

The Maryland Education Credit, which was not brought to a vote in the General Assembly this year, would attract critical financial assistance for lower- and middle-income pre-K to 12th grade students at both public and nonpublic schools by awarding up to $15 million in education tax credits for business donations that help students pay for tutoring, tuition, supplies, transportation and special needs services. Maryland already has 25 business tax credits that support the film industry, biotechnology, green building and coal mining, to name a few. If Maryland supports these industries with tax credits, surely it should give a credit to businesses that support our Maryland's lower- and middle-income children. Doesn't it make sense to invest $15 million to save $1.5 billion?

The state understands the benefit of having good schools. One need only look at its significant annual investment of $6.1 billion in public schools to understand this. Imagine the progress we could make in improving our society if Maryland made a fraction of that investment in our nonpublic schools.

William E. Lori is archbishop of Baltimore. He can be reached at communications@archbalt.org.


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