Saint John Bosco and Promoting Educational Opportunity with the Maryland Education Tax Credit

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This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Saint John Bosco, whose memorial feast day is tomorrow. Popularly known as “Don Bosco,” which is Italian for “Father Bosco,” he dedicated his life to the education of disadvantaged young people. To advance his educational ministry, he founded a society that became known as the Salesians of Don Bosco, which is now a worldwide order and network of schools and educational programs, particularly in service to the underprivileged.

Here in our area, in 2007, the Salesians teamed with the Archdiocese of Washington to open Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School. In the great tradition of their saintly namesake, a vital part of the school’s mission is to provide excellent educational opportunities that otherwise would not be available to students from low-income families.

Don Bosco reminds us that not only are children a treasure whose future is to be nurtured and informed with both learning and grace, but they are a sign of our own dependence – our dependence on God’s providence and on one another. When we look upon children from disadvantaged families or children with no avenue for a quality education, what we should see is a young sister or brother who is in need of our help.

We all have a role to play in providing the opportunity of an authentic, quality education to young people. Education is a necessity for most anyone to find sustained gainful employment and be a builder of his or her own future. Implicit in any system of true quality learning is the freedom and power of parents to choose the best schools – public or private – for their children. Regardless of wealth or income level, all families should have an equal opportunity to choose where their children attend school.

However, there is no equal opportunity or real choice in education if parents do not have the money to act on their choices. To address this inequity, many smart solutions have been offered around the country, including the proposed Maryland Education Tax Credit, which would remove current obstacles to educational success and help low- and middle-income families access the best schooling they can find for their children at a private school or public school of their choice. This bipartisan measure has been introduced before in the Maryland General Assembly and now is the time to make it a reality.

Like the highly successful District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, enacted more than ten years ago, the Maryland Education Tax Credit would help level the playing field for students and close learning gaps, allowing them to pursue a better life. This initiative, if enacted, would allow businesses to use the funds that otherwise would be paid to the government as taxes and instead apply those funds to finance scholarships for children who are most in need. This would not reduce the amount of money paid by businesses, much less take money away from education. It would in fact promote education by allowing that money to be invested in the futures of our young people.

All of society would benefit from the enactment of the tax credit. According to reports, Maryland’s nonpublic schools currently save the state more than $1.5 billion in per-pupil expenditures each year. Catholic schools alone save taxpayers about $710 million annually. Because private institutions of learning like our Catholic schools are typically able to provide a quality education at a lower cost than public schools, the people of Maryland would save even more with the tax credit.

Educational tax credits have been implemented on the federal level and in many states. They are a proven way to allow for a fair and equitable distribution of education monies, not to mention historically bringing greater academic success for recipients.

As we remember Don Bosco, we are also invited to embrace his mission to help young people gain the educational opportunity they need to realize their potential for a fuller, more meaningful life.

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