BUFFALO -- More than 10,000 schoolchildren, along with their teachers and parents, rallied yesterday in support of a state tax credit meant to encourage private donations to education, cheering live speakers who included Mayor Byron Brown and school reformers and video appearances by former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
Legislation pending in the Assembly would give individuals and businesses a dollar-for-dollar credit for donations to public schools or nonprofit scholarship organizations that help offset private school tuition.
With next year's state budget already passed, sponsors acknowledge the bill, which would cost $250 million the first year, has little chance this session. But they say they want to build support now for the future.
"The conversation needs to be had, and if we don't push it now then we'll get to the budget next time and we still won't be talking about it," Assemb. Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo), one of more than 90 Assembly sponsors, said in the lobby of the First Niagara Center as students watched performances and listened to speakers inside.
Sponsors of the rally included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, NYS Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools, and the Education Choice Alliance of Western New York.
The bill, a version of which passed the State Senate last year, also would give public school teachers a state income tax credit when they spend their own money on supplies, up to $75.
"How often is it that Albany can pass one bill and everybody wins?" Kelly said in a message broadcast on two screens at the front of the arena.
The discussion comes as the state's schools are putting together their budgets for next year in advance of May 21 voting. With districts statewide continuing a trend of staff and programming reductions, despite an increase in state aid, speakers at the rally urged support for a measure that would direct more private money into the mix.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget for next year increases spending for education by nearly $1 billion, but advocates say that's not enough to offset previous cuts or the state's tax cap, which limits what districts can raise in their communities.
The proposed education investment tax credit "provides an innovate approach to generate new investments in our children and their educations," said State Sen. Timothy Kennedy of Buffalo, a Democrat.