Several hundred people from a variety of faiths gathered Thursday night to ask state politicians to provide some relief from the burden of paying both public school taxes and tuition for private schooling.
The coalition that organized the event tried to persuade the officials to pass legislation in Albany that would help them pay less tuition through tax credits. The credits also would benefit public schools.
State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) offered some optimism, telling the crowd that he thinks the bill could pass next year.
"There is building momentum for it," he said.
The forum at the Schechter School of Long Island in Williston Park attracted a half-dozen legislators. It was organized by an array of Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Muslim schools and organizations, including the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the UJA-Federation of New York.
The groups are fighting for passage of the proposed Education Investment Tax Credit, which could provide $300 million in assistance annually. Half would go to New York State religious and independent schools; the rest to public schools, officials said.
The money is not a tuition voucher, but rather a means of allowing people to divert up to 75 percent of their state income tax directly to public schools or foundations that support them, or in the case of private schools, indirectly to scholarship organizations. That money would then help families pay tuition.
Assemb. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) said Thursday night that while there's support for the bill in the Assembly, the 75 percent contribution level may have to be reduced.
He said legislators will also have to show Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo how the income tax money diverted through the program would be made up in state coffers.
Jeanne Morcone, principal of Trinity Regional School in East Northport, said the combination of tuition and high taxes has contributed to her school's enrollment dropping by 75 to 100 students in the last decade, to about 500.
"Many people want to send their children to Catholic school, but they can't afford to," she said.
Siddiqa Majidi, a guidance counselor at the Crescent School, an Islamic school in Hempstead, said parents are feeling the impact of rising tuition and taxes.
"It is a great idea," she said of the tax credit proposal. "We have lost a lot of students because they can't afford to pay tuition."
One parent, Marmeline Midy, 40, of Levittown, said she attended Catholic school in her native Haiti and wants her two daughters to continue attending St. Joseph School in Garden City. But she needs some tuition relief.
"I am making sacrifices to pay for it," she said. "It's very important to me."
Ira Balsam, president of the board at the Schechter School, said: "We have a real crisis going on. People just can't afford it."
Montesano said that if private religious schools are shut down or lose large numbers of students, they will have to be absorbed by public schools -- putting an extra burden on them.
"We have to do something to keep these [private] schools open," he said.