We are extremely dismayed and disappointed that the Education Investment Incentive Act was not part of the New York State budget this year. The bill would have been a win for all students in the state because it offered tax credits to donors who wanted to help private and public schools. It even would have reimbursed public school teachers for money they shell out from their own pockets for educational resources.
The tax credit had already passed the State Senate and would have passed the Assembly, but Speaker Sheldon Silver of Manhattan kept it off the floor for a vote. Though Gov. Andrew Cuomo had indicated he would support it, in the midst of closed-door horse trading, he meekly backed away from the effort.
Why would he do such a thing? When it came to choosing between the opinions of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the 30 labor unions and community organizations who allied with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn to support education tax credits, he chose the teachers union. Some combination of this pressure and his weakness on this issue spelled doom for assistance to the parents of students who attend private and parochial schools.
Make no mistake about it: More Catholic schools across New York State will close because working and middle class parents will not be able to afford to send their children to a Catholic school. There is no equal playing ground here. Working class parents have no choice in education.
Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone went to Albany and made an impassioned plea for help, citing the fact a round of school closings will hit his schools this June. The Archdiocese of New York also is being forced to close more schools at the end of this semester.
The UFT will not be happy until every Catholic and private school in the state is closed, and it has a monopoly on what and how students will learn. The last thing the UFT wants is competition, and it uses its money to exert political pressure on the pols who are so beholden to them for financial contributions.
Democracy is at its worst when the desire of the majority is held hostage to the self-interests of the few.
A last-minute push to save the tax credit proposal involved linkage with the Assembly’s Dream Act, which would have offered financial aid to the children of undocumented residents. The New York State Catholic Conference backed both bills and would have been satisfied with the political compromise. But political proponents of the Dream Act, which already had failed in the Senate, wanted both issues to be considered on their own merits.
The bishops of New York had made the education proposal their No. 1 priority for this year’s budget. But the so-called Catholic vote is not taken seriously because too many Catholics continue to blindly vote along party lines and do not hold office holders accountable for failing to consider our real interests.
We urge New Yorkers to be politically involved and to express their views to their representatives. One way to do this is to receive regular updates on political issues from the New York State Catholic Conference. Log on to www.nyscatholic.org and participate in the public policy action hotline.
We’ve lost yet another battle in Albany. We will continue to lose such skirmishes until we wake up and realize that being informed and involved will give us a say in public policy.