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Education tax credit program passes Maryland Senate

Rachel Baye

The state Senate passed Wednesday a controversial measure that would offer businesses tax credits in exchange for donations that support scholarships for students to attend private schools. It’s one of a few measures in Annapolis that opponents criticize as pseudo-voucher programs.

Under the program, businesses make donations to Student Assistant Organizations, which are nonprofits that act as middle-men, doling out scholarships for low-income students who attend private schools and paying for extracurricular programs at some public schools.

The state then pays up to $15 million a year in tax credits to the businesses, up to $200,000 a business.

The Maryland State Education Association is one of a slew of groups opposing the measure. MSEA Assistant Executive Director Sean Johnson said the bill doesn't ensure that scholarships go to low-income students who need them.

"Historically, these programs in other states, all they really do is go to enrich the families of students who are already in private school," Johnson said. "You're not actually helping any new child who is going to be enrolling in a non-public school as a result of the tax credit."

Sixteen states have similar programs already, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Opponents also say the measure diverts money from public schools, which are funded based on the number of students they enroll. If students leave for private schools, they stand to lose funding.

But Senate President Mike Miller refuted that argument Wednesday.

“The money doesn’t come from public taxpayers. It has no effect on public funding whatsoever,” he said. “It’s a great step forward in the state of Maryland.”

This is the fourth year similar legislation was considered in the General Assembly. Miller said that in previous years, the efforts failed when they reached the House of Delegates.