Good Evening
Good Evening

Nonpublic schools to get $250M infusion from state

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Gov Andrew M. Cuomo

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Gov Andrew M. Cuomo talk during an event on May 12, 2015, at the Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury. Credit: Uli Seit

ALBANY -- Catholic, Jewish and other nonpublic schools will get an unprecedented infusion of $250 million of state money to help stem closings as part of Albany's big end-of-session deal announced Tuesday.

"It's about getting support to nonpublic schools," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said. "I'm very pleased they are going to get the financial support they need."

But the one-time cash deal is a defeat for the far more lucrative education tax credit sought by Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan, which was a top priority for Cuomo and the Senate's Republican majority.

The compromise that is part of Tuesday's deal between Cuomo and legislative leaders was floated weeks ago. But it was dismissed at the time by the state Catholic Conference as simply paying a debt of more than $200 million that the state has owed Catholic schools for years in exchange for carrying out state-mandated services.

"We are disappointed that, once again, we have come up short," Dolan said. But he thanked the leaders for the compromise.

"This money, which has been owed for several years, is sorely needed by our schools, many of whom have been struggling to remain open," Dolan said.

The education tax credit would have provided $150 million in tax credits annually to encourage donations up to $1 million to private schools by providing a far bigger tax break than a charitable deduction.

Supporters said most of the donations under an education tax credit would have paid for scholarships to allow low-income students, often served by failing public schools, to attend nonpublic schools. The credit would have created a steady stream of funding needed to stem the mass closings of Catholic and other nonpublic schools, which serve 400,000 students, they said.

The tax credit, however, was opposed by the politically powerful teachers' unions and by the Assembly's Democratic majority and its new leader, Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx).

If the Senate and Assembly approve the deal as expected, the agreement will end one of the nastiest fights in Albany and on Long Island in decades.

Billionaire Bruce Kovner and some well-financed colleagues who support school choice had targeted five Long Island Democrats through mailed fliers and robocalls to pressure them to adopt the education tax credit as a much-needed benefit to low-income public school students.

"It was one of the most massive spending sprees we've seen in years," said Billy Easton of the Alliance for Quality Education, which lobbies for public school spending. "And they were soundly defeated."

Teachers' unions also flooded the mail and airwaves and plastered billboards in opposition to the education tax credit. The ad blitz portrayed the tax credit for nonpublic schools as a tax break for the wealthy close to Cuomo at the expense of what they said are underfunded public schools.

State & Region