Legislators in New York hope to pass a bill allotting up to $300 million in tax credits for individuals and businesses that donate to education. The Education Investment Tax Credit Bill will divide those available funds equally among public school donors and to donors of scholarship funds for private education.
Donors would apply on a first-come, first-served basis to the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance for the tax credits. Eligible recipients include public schools, districts, pre-kindergarten programs, K-12 scholarship funds, and nonprofits.
Money for Everyone
State Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn), who sponsored the Senate bill, said it would benefit public and private education across the state by increasing revenue to both.
“We’ll be able to keep open schools,” Golden said. “This is money that’s on the table.… This money is coming from the tax table, not the education table.”
Golden pointed to the ten Catholic schools in Buffalo that in January announced they will close. If private and parochial schools must close their doors for financial reasons, Golden said, taxpayers will have to pay for additional public schools.
Golden said the bill would especially affect families that do not have the luxury to afford private tuition. Many private schools serve minorities and struggling economic communities, Golden said. The bill would give more families the chance for their children to attend a school of choice.
The system would be similar to Florida’s, but New York’s plan would ensure public and private schools equally benefit, said Golden’s lawyer, Robyn Cotrona.
“[The bill creates] a pot of $250 million, half of which is designated for scholarship organizations and half of which is designated for public schools, districts, [and] local education funds,” Cotrona said.
After its first year, the fund would increase to $300 million. The state would tally donations, and donors would apply the credit to their end-of-the-year tax returns, Cotrona said.
The bill has a diverse roster of support, Golden said: “Unions have stepped up to the plate here and are endorsing this education tax credit. Police departments, firefighters’ unions … and different [groups] across the state.”
Thousands of grassroots supporters have rallied to support the legislation. Invest in Education (IIE), a nonprofit advocacy group supporting the bill, says 5,000 supporters attended a November 19 rally in Westchester, and an April 2013 rally drew more than 10,000 students, parents, and teachers to Buffalo.
The rally’s cosponsors included the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the Business Council of Westchester, the Children’s Scholarship Fund, The Jewish Education Project, and the Lutheran Schools Association, according to IIE’s press release.
Slow Train Coming
James Cultrara, director for education at the New York State Catholic Conference, represents the bishops of New York on the issue.
“This idea has been on the table for 21 years,” Cultrara said. “Tuition-paying families are paying at least $3 billion in tuition.… That is a tremendous commitment on their part to educate their children, but it is a dual burden of having to pay significant taxes to support students in public schools.”
Families that send children to private schools save the public an estimated $9 billion a year, Cultrara said. “[The bill] is a balanced, moderate, and fair way to provide relief to tuition-paying families while at the same time helping public schools.”
The bill has substantial bipartisan support and passed with a vote of 55-4 in the Senate in June 2012. The Assembly version has more than 100 cosponsors but has yet to hit the floor for a vote.
“We can attribute that broad support to how the bill is crafted. It’s clearly not a simple voucher program,” Cultrara said.
Golden is optimistic, but he says the next few weeks require a final push in budget negotiations.
“This is the closest we’ve gotten,” he said, “We’re in about our twenty-sixth rewrite…. We’re looking to finalize our work so we can actually move it into the budget.”
Image by Matt @ PEK.