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Cuomo, in Westbury, presses to revive tuition tax credit

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the Capitol in

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the Capitol in Albany on March 18, 2015. Credit: AP

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday tried to revive an education tax credit, unveiling a bill that would provide $150 million largely to help parents offset private school tuition costs and encourage contributions to private and parochial schools.

With the state legislative session set to end late next month, Cuomo appeared with Cardinal Timothy Dolan at the Yes We Can community center in Westbury and called for passage of the Parental Choice in Education Act. He said the bill would ease the burden on low-income families and provide needed funds to keep religious schools from closing.

"This is not about politics. It's not about religion. It's about fairness," Cuomo said. "And, it's about choice and opportunity."

While Cuomo has tried for years to win passage of an education tax credit, teacher unions oppose it, calling it a backdoor voucher program.

"Investing adequately and equitably in public education, not providing more tax giveaways to the wealthy who prefer private education, should be the state's top priority," said Andrew Pallotta, New York State United Teachers executive vice president.

Earlier this year, Cuomo linked passage of the tax credit -- which has the support of the Republican-led State Senate -- with the Dream Act, a measure supported by Assembly Democrats to provide college tuition assistance to immigrants living in the country illegally. The two parties failed to reach a deal, and the tax credit was dropped from Cuomo's state budget.

The new legislation would provide a $500-per-student tax credit to families with combined incomes of less than $60,000 to help pay tuition at private and parochial schools and out-of-district public schools. The credit would benefit about 140,000 children and 82,000 families statewide and cost $70 million, Cuomo said.

Another $50 million in credits would go to individuals and businesses that donate to private and parochial school scholarship funds, while an additional $20 million would go to education programs at public schools and nonprofit groups. And $10 million would go to provide a tax credit of up to $200 per public school teacher to reimburse out-of-pocket purchases of supplies and classroom materials.

Dolan said the bill would create a "level playing field" for private and parochial schools. "It's not going to take any money away from our public schools," he said.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), said Democrats would review the bill. But he noted that "there has not been sufficient support to move the measure in the past."

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