Cardinal pushes for education tax credit

Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks during a news conference Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks during a news conference at the Capitol in Albany on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan drew crowds of legislators in Albany Tuesday as he pushed his tax credit proposal to help Catholic schools and better fund public schools.

"This is a bill that's bringing people together on behalf of our kids," Dolan said, saying it is supported by labor and business, upstate and downstate, the rich and poor. "Unfortunately, education today seems to be dividing us."

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The tax credit would encourage more donations to Catholic and other private schools as well as public schools by providing a greater tax advantage to contributors over traditional charitable deductions. The credit would be capped at a donation from a person or business of $1 million, and half the credit would be reserved for donations to public schools. In total, the credit would be capped at $300 million a year, phased in over three years.

The tax credit would be provided to contributors to nonpublic schools' scholarship programs to fund tuition, but would also apply to donations to arts, music, sports and other programs at public charter schools and traditional public schools.

Beyond the photo opportunities it created with lawmakers, Dolan's proposal faces some of Albany's most powerful forces in teachers' unions closely allied with lawmakers.

"It's a bait-and-switch," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, a labor-backed group that lobbies for school aid. "No one is making one-million-dollar donations to public schools like they are to private and charter schools."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) noted the state already provides various aid to students who attend Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools and is planning to include them in a proposed $2 billion bond act to improve technology in classrooms.

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But the education tax credit is expensive. "It costs $250 million," Silver said.

Supporters, however, said the credit would help stem the closing of Catholic schools and includes a tax break for all teachers who buy school supplies out of pocket.

"It would be a big benefit for arts programs and music programs," said Assemb. Nicole Malliotakis (R-Staten Island).

Assemb.Marcus Crespo (D-Bronx) said families of color need help to keep their kids in Catholic schools and to keep their schools open.

"I'm saddened [when] Catholic schools are closed," said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), who leads the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares majority control of the Senate. "We really have to make this into an education bill, not public schools versus private schools. And that's how I think we'll win."

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