FOR A decade, Maryland teachers unions and their allies managed to block all efforts to establish a scholarship program enabling poor students to escape failing schools by attending private schools. The outcome was different this year, partly due to the shadow cast on the legislative session by last spring’s riots in Baltimore, which focused attention on the costs of not providing better educational choices.
Included in the state’s $42 billion operating budget worked out between Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and Democratic leaders of the General Assembly is $5 million for scholarships. Students from low-income families will be eligible. The program will be administered by the state education department. Participating schools must agree to test students regularly on their progress and not to discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin or sexual orientation. Scholarship amounts would be capped at the statewide average of per-pupil spending; the number of students who might benefit has yet to be estimated.
Mr. Hogan had backed a measure to provide tax credits to companies that contribute to scholarships, but it ran into long-standing opposition in the House. An alternative scholarship program emerged this year, The Post’s Ovetta Wiggins reported, after House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) softened his opposition to private school vouchers at the urging of two African American delegates from Baltimore, Antonio Hayes (D) and Keith E. Haynes (D). They stressed the urgency of helping young black men in the city. Education, Mr. Hayes told us, is key to better futures, and the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray last April shone new light on the shortcomings of the public school system and the injustice that does.
State education officials and an advisory board appointed by the governor and legislative leaders will be tasked with designing the mechanics of the program. They would do well to look at the success of the District, where a federally funded scholarship program has improved academic outcomes for participants and spurred improvements in public schools. We hope the commitment to this program is long-term and not just a one-year infusion of money offered as a sop. It would be cruel to offer opportunity to students and then yank it away.