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ALBANY — Parochial school advocates are throwing a Hail Mary pass this weekend in a last-minute effort to revive a tax credit for donations to their schools as well as for public schools.
“More than 200 Catholic schools have closed in the last 15 years throughout New York State, as families and parishes, who strongly believe in the value of Catholic education, struggle to keep up with increasing costs,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan, head of the Archdiocese of New York. “Many of our public schools also desperately need help.”
His message will be homilies in Catholic churches statewide this weekend, augmenting a plaintive TV ad blitz in which Dolan, surrounded by young Catholic school students, says: “Governor Cuomo, don't let us down.” Bishops estimate 2.7 million people will be reached this weekend.
New York has just over 500 Catholic schools now, down from a high of 1,400 in 1970. Of the 85 Catholic schools closed in the last five years, 11 were on Long Island, which served 3,000 students. There are now 53 Catholic schools on Long Island.
In Albany, however, many politically dicey issues such as the education tax credit have been dropped or given little hope as lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo seek to end the session and devote their time to re-election campaigns. The session is scheduled to end Thursday.
One lawmaker this week dubbed it “the year of the fizzle.”
“I don’t think it makes sense,” Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said of the education tax credit. “It’s the only place where you can spend $1 and get back $1.35 between the credit and the deduction.”
"That's no one's intention and that is not reflected in the bill in his own house,“ said Robert Bellafiore, spokesman for the Coalition for Opportunity in Education supporting the measure.
The Assembly proposal would provide a credit worth 75 percent of the donation. The Senate proposal would cover 90 percent. Federal taxes provide an additional credit. The tax credit would replace the current standard deduction for charitable donations to nonprofit, nonpublic schools and to fundraisers for public schools.
Silver also rejected the much-discussed trade of the education tax credit — supported by Senate Republicans — for the Dream Act, which is sought hardest by Assembly Democrats. The Dream Act would provide state aid for college financial assistance to those living in the country illegally who were brought to the United States as children.
“The tax credit is nothing but an elaborate scheme to take public dollars that our public schools need to restore cuts to art, music and tutoring and instead send that money to private schools,” said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education which advocates for public school funding. “The fact that Governor Cuomo is supporting it while he continues to starve our public schools is shocking and disappointing.”
Cuomo and the legislature have increased public school aid. But Easton argues the increases still don’t match the billions of dollars that the state’s highest court said is owed to the schools from decades of underfunding.
In March, Dolan lobbied hard for the measure and was flocked by lawmakers and Cuomo for photo opportunities. Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic school education advocates were encouraged the measure would be included in the 2014-15 budget.
“Although Governor Cuomo assured us he would fight to include the proposal in the state budget, in the end, we were left out,” Dolan said. “As the legislative session ends in Albany this coming week, we pray that Governor Cuomo won’t let us down .?.?. Pray that Governor Cuomo will put children ahead of politics and fight for the Education Investment Tax Credit.”
The election-year budget passed March 31 includes $2 billion of tax cuts and credits for homeowners and business, corporations and Wall Street banks spread over several years, but not the education tax credit. The school tax cut would cost $150 million the first year, $225 million in 2015-16 and $300 million the year after that. Half the credit would have to go to public school programs and teachers would get a $200 annual tax credit for spending their own money on classroom materials.