Last week’s decision by the New York State Legislature not to include the proposed Education Tax Credit in the state budget was a blow to Catholic schools in New York. It’s likely that more schools will have to close. It’s definite that fewer students will be offered scholarship money.
The “no-brainer” proposal that was before the state legislators would have provided a tax credit to anyone who donated money to a scholarship fund to any school. It also would have reimbursed public school teachers for some of the money that they spend out of their own pockets for school supplies.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo had taken the issue a step forward, offering modest tuition tax credit to anyone who pays tuition for education at any school in New York State.
The Catholic bishops long have been supportive of such proposals. After years of rejection, there seemed to be momentum in favor of real choice in education this year, only to have our hopes dashed once more.
In the Brooklyn Diocese, the lobbying effort had been ramped up. There were demonstrations outside local Assembly and State Senate members’ offices. One of those who got a lot of attention was Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan of Woodside and Sunnyside. A key vote in the battle, she could not be budged in her opposition to Catholic school aid.
Several lawmakers saw the reason and logic behind our requests and changed their votes from “No” to “Yes.” We’re referring to Assembly members Roxanne Persaud and Erik Dilan. We’re grateful for their support.
We even had the support this time of Gov. Cuomo who said it was only fair that all parents be given a real choice of where to send their children to school. The governor even made a campaign-like tour of churches one Sunday that included St. Jude’s in Canarsie, to drum up support for the legislation.
The Church was encouraged that without Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in office, the bill would have a chance in the Assembly, where the blockage has always occurred. But the new Speaker Carl Heastie did a complete about-face. Previously a supporter, he turned into an opponent. The pressure from the state’s teachers’ unions was just too much for the rookie leader.
While Catholic schools have been told to go fend for themselves, the politicians tried to mend fences by including in the budget $250 million in mandated services fees for private schools. These are reimbursement for tasks that schools are required to do by the state, such as administer state testing and compile attendance records.
The joke is that these things already were supposed to be paid to the schools but the check has never arrived. We’re being told to accept money that already is owed to us but has never been paid.
One principal said she would believe it when she gets the check. Another laughed at the prospect of receiving such funds since they never have arrived in the past. It’s a joke and the joke is on the Catholic voters who continue to vote for Democratic office holders who continue to block most of our priority items.
The end results will be that fewer students, especially the poor, will be able to attend a Catholic or private school of their choice, because less money will be donated to scholarship funds. Fewer students will mean more Catholic schools will not be able to survive.
Those students denied entrance to parochial schools will continue to flood into public schools, raising the cost to the state, jamming an already crowded system and further inflating schools that cannot house the current students. All because public school teachers unions demand a monopoly on educating our children.
Who loses? We all do.