Bishop William Murphy, others decry lack of private-school tax credits in budget
Bishop William Murphy and other Catholic, Jewish and private school leaders are seething over state lawmakers' failure to include tax credits in this year's budget that would have benefited private and public schools with up to $300 million a year.
Private religious and secular schools were "thrown under the bus," getting nothing as state aid for public schools went up $1.1 billion, Murphy, spiritual leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, wrote on the Long Island Catholic website after the budget's passage last week.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, said he was "disappointed and frustrated -- and, to be honest, angry -- when the children in our Catholic schools are treated like second-class citizens."
At issue is the proposed Education Investment Tax Credit, which would give $150 million in assistance a year to religious and independent private schools and $150 million to public schools.
The proposed credit is not a tuition voucher. It allows 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, according to James Cultrara, the New York State Catholic Conference's director for education. That money then would help families of students at private schools pay tuition.
The proposal has passed the state Senate twice in earlier years, but has never gotten full legislative approval. Proponents had believed they had enough legislative support that it would be included in this year's budget.
A spokesman for Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre), majority leader of that chamber, said Skelos considers the tax credit proposal "an open issue and a priority for the rest of the legislative session."
Skelos "has pushed harder than anyone to get the Education Investment Tax Credit included in the budget," spokesman Mark Hansen said. "He couldn't get all the parties to agree."
Some supporters attributed the defeat largely to opposition from New York State United Teachers, the union that represents more than 600,000 public schoolteachers, staffers and others.
"We strongly opposed the bill," NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn said. "Our public schools have been devastated by [budget] cuts. To siphon away money now to private and religious schools would be the wrong direction for New York State."
"We fully support the right of parents to choose whatever kind of education they want for their children, but they shouldn't be asking taxpayers to subsidize it," he said.
Dennis Proust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, said the proposal would have helped all schools. Defeating it, he said, may place more burdens and costs on public schools.
"As Catholic schools close, it will overwhelm the public school system [with more students] and taxpayers are going to suffer," he said.
Some 18,000 children attend Catholic elementary schools on Long Island, with about another 12,000 enrolled in Catholic high schools, according to the diocese. Figures for non-Catholic schools were not immediately available.
David Hahn, head of school at Long Island Lutheran in Brookville, which serves preschool through 12th grade, said, "We were really disappointed" by the proposal's defeat.
"The choice of being able to attend a religious independent school has always been a big part of American culture," he said. "For families that are strapped with the expenses of living in our area . . . it's become a more difficult choice."
Ira Balsam, president of the board of trustees at the Schechter School of Long Island, a Jewish school in Williston Park that serves grades kindergarten to 12, said 52 percent of families there require financial aid to pay tuition.
"There's a real affordability crisis in the nonpublic schools," said Ron Soloway of the UJA-Federation of New York, a Jewish nonprofit that backed the bill.
Still, he and Balsam are hopeful the tax credit will be adopted soon. "I think we've started to make real inroads," Balsam said.