ANNAPOLIS – Twelve-year-old Brittanee wants to go to the prom one day, so her mom had to go to Annapolis.
There, Baltimore mother Sheila Wilson urged legislators on the House Judiciary Committee to support a bill, introduced by Delegate Paul Carlson, D- Montgomery, to amend the current child support cutoff age of 18.
By mandating child support continue through high school, this bill would provide students the extra money they need for senior expenses, including the prom.
The House passed the bill Thursday, and it now awaits a Senate vote.
Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, has similar legislation that passed the Senate and is awaiting a House vote.
Single mothers like Wilson are keeping close watch on the votes.
“When the time comes, Brittanee will be 18, but she wouldn’t have graduated yet,” Wilson told the committee last month. “So that child support money will no longer be available for her.”
Brittanee’s May birthday wouldn’t be a problem if she lived in one of 44 other states. In nearby Washington, she would receive payments until she turned 21; in Virginia, until her high school graduation.
Maryland’s current law, however, will leave Brittanee and her mother financially stranded in a year when they’ll be paying for class rings, graduation announcements, class trips, school functions, senior pictures and college admissions fees.
Just the thought of her daughter not taking a part in these activities leaves Wilson sad.
Wilson, a graduate student and full-time case manager, said the biweekly payment from Brittanee’s father helps pay her daughter’s private school tuition, health care costs and helped open the new bank account the St. Ambrose Catholic School seventh-grader took out last week to save up for college.
Without the bill’s passage, Wilson said many of these good things would end because she knows Brittanee’s dad would stop paying.
“And I don’t have relatives I can get money from,” she said.
That’s why she had to go to the House Judiciary Committee to testify. That committee hasn’t been kind to the legislation in the past.
For the past 25 years, there have been more than 35 attempts from legislators who wanted to see the child support cutoff age raised. When U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, R-Bethesda, was a House delegate, she introduced similar legislation in 1984.
So far, legislators seem to be listening to the pleas of single parents like Wilson.
And despite legislators’ deathblows to several other child support bills this session, this bill was armored as more of an “education bill.”
Since half of the nation’s marriages end in divorce, “that’s 3,500 students whose education may be put at risk this year under Maryland law,” said Stuart Skok, a Montgomery County family law attorney who testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
More than 1,700 students in Montgomery County public schools were 18 when they started school last September, according to Skok, and almost 7,000 county high school seniors will have turned 18 by June 2001.
Instead of putting these students’ education in jeopardy, Carlson said, “We need to give resources for our young people to minimally get through high school.”