New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Msgr. Kieran E. Harrington, vicar for communications for the Diocese of Brooklyn, along with several New York bishops and representatives from the states’ dioceses met with Governor Andrew Cuomo and members of the New York Senate and Assembly on June 1 to encourage them to pass a bill that would be key for the future of Catholic schools and other religious and independent schools in the state.
After the meeting in Albany, Cardinal Dolan told the media that the governor’s Parental Choice in Education Act is intended to help families of poor children while offering tax credits to encourage people to make contributions and donations supporting education.
Pastors from different faiths have asked the Assembly’s speaker to support the bill, while students and parents have reached out to their Assembly members.
More than 40 students, parents and teachers from Notre Dame Academy and St. Matthias School, both in Ridgewood, marched outside Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan’s office May 29 to ask her to sponsor the Education Investment Tax Credit bill (A2551), which, like the governor’s proposed Act, would benefit public and private schools in New York State.
“My students, my parents and myself, we believe in Catholic education,” said Maria Cuomo, Notre Dame Academy’s principal. “My families, who want to send their kids to Catholic school, could use a little financial assistance. And this tax credit sounds like it is going to benefit everybody, public schools and non-public schools. I think it’s a good thing for our Assemblywoman to come on board.”
The tax credit proposal would raise funds for public schools and support organizations that provide scholarships to children attending private and parochial schools. It provides tax credits of up to 75 percent of donations to public schools and non-profits that support educational programs, and credits for up to 75 percent of donations to non-profit organizations that award scholarships to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The bill aims to help families afford to send their children to schools of their choosing and offers reimbursements for teachers who pay for school supplies out of their own pockets.
The Diocese of Brooklyn – along with the other seven Catholic dioceses in the state, as well as Jewish and Protestant leaders – supports the tax credit bill.
Some of the diocese’s efforts include Catholic school officials meeting with legislators in Albany, and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio writing to all Assembly members to thank them for their support if they co-sponsor the bill and urging for their help if they have not.
Silvio Melendez came to the Ridgewood rally because of his son, a third grader at Notre Dame Academy. “I hope that if it gets approved, the students in my son’s school could receive donations from different companies, local businesses,” he said. “It is better for my son in the long run.”
During the rally, Assemblywoman Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Education, spoke to Maria Cuomo on the phone.
“She didn’t know that we were going to be here. She said it is a very important issue and she is going to call me during the week and set up a meeting,” Cuomo said. “I’m happy that she is willing to hear what I and people from my school have to say. … I hope I can make some impact when I speak to her.”
Nolan, who was talking to constituents at her other office, said she looks forward to meeting Cuomo and reiterated the Assembly’s support of parochial schools, while expressing her reservations about the bill.
“I have some concerns about (the education tax credit) being something that would just benefit wealthy hedge fund people, but I’m happy to hear what (the principals and members of the community) have to say,” Nolan said.
To show their support for the bill, students and parents from St. Gregory the Great Academy, Flatbush, and Yeshiva Shaare Torah Inc. marched in front of the office of Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte on June 1. Students from St. Sebastian School, Woodside, along with their principal attended a tax credit rally at Nolan’s office on June 2.
On May 18, students from Our Lady of Trust Academy, Canarsie, and Mary Queen of Heaven School, Mill Basin, rallied to thank Assemblywoman Roxanne Persaud for changing her position and supporting the bill.
A recent poll revealed that a majority of minority voters support the Education Tax Credit. According to a Siena College poll released in May, 52 percent of Catholic and 53 percent of Jewish voters, as well as 55 percent of Black voters and 53 percent of Latino voters support the tax credit proposal.
Governor Cuomo has declared the bill a priority and toured churches to rally support. At St. Jude Church, Canarsie, he encouraged the congregation to email their Assembly members urging for their support of the Parental Choice in Education Act, which includes the tax credit measure.
Education As a Priority
Under the bill, families with incomes below $60,000 a year would qualify for up to $500 per student for tuition expenses to non-public schools. This would benefit almost 140,000 children and 82,000 New York families. The tax credit could encourage more charitable donations, benefitting all students, advocates said.
“Some of the early charges (were) that this is only some benefit to the fat cats, the so-called rich people, and that was quickly clarified – that, no, we’re talking about poor kids, and we’re talking about middle-income donors to help those poor kids,” Cardinal Dolan told the media after the meeting with legislators in Albany.
The Coalition for Opportunity in Education, which includes religious and community groups, has been trying to convince legislators to support the bill through a recent campaign. Meanwhile the New York State United Teachers, a teacher’s union, has started a mailing campaign to sway legislators against the proposal.
As the Assembly session is drawing to a close, students, teachers and parents are uniting to have their voices heard on different issues. On May 27, students from three Catholic schools participated in a school safety rally at City Hall for the passage of Introduction 65, a bill that would guarantee non-public schools to have an unarmed NYPD school safety agent at the school’s request.
Msgr. Harrington spoke on behalf of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Students from Queen of Rosary Catholic Academy, Williamsburg; Queen of All Saints, Fort Greene; and St. Saviour Catholic Academy, Park Slope, rallied alongside students from Beth Jacob of Boro Park, Barkai Yeshiva, Al-Madinah School, Razi School, Al-lhsan, as well as elected officials and representatives from Jewish, Muslim and Catholics organizations.
After the May 29 rally, Brian Smith, a volunteer for the Catholic Citizens Committee, handed out flyers to raise awareness about the education tax investment credit.
“Catholic schools need the money and this tax credit could provide for the future,” he said. “When you provide for education, it provides for a lifetime.”
Other schools, including St. Francis of Assisi Academy, Flatbush, were planning to rally in front of the offices of their Assembly members to ask them to co-sponsor the education tax credit bill.