Gov. Cuomo’s controversial stances on education continued over the weekend as he visited religious institutions in Brooklyn in an effort to promote legislation that would give tax breaks to parents who send their children to nonpublic schools, among other proposals.
“This is about fairness and this is about parents choosing the school that is right for their children,” Cuomo said in a press release.
Cuomo, who attended Christian-affiliated schools his entire life, said families making less than $60,000 a year who send their children to nonpublic schools would qualify for $500 in tuition expenses per student.
The legislation, if passed, would also give scholarships to low- and middle-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools or public schools outside of their district, give incentives to public schools to host enhancement programs and give tax credits to teachers who purchase school supplies with their own money.
The bill, which does not yet have an Assembly or Senate sponsor, has received the support of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, who has had his differences with the governor in the past.
“This is not just a Catholic issue — it is an issue for every parochial, private or nonpublic school that is devoted to the success of their students,” Dolan said in a statement issued by Cuomo’s office.
The bill also received the support of Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park), who was in favor of a similar tax break during budget negotiations earlier this year. The break, known as Education Tax Credit, did not make it into the approved budget.
“We need to ensure that every parent has means to give their children the best possible education,” Goldfeder said in an email. “Providing our children with a quality education, regardless of income, is one of our greatest responsibilities as a community.”
Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Sunnyside), chairwoman of the Education Committee, could not be reached for comment on the proposed legislation.
State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), a member of the higher chamber’s Education Committee, said on Monday he was a supporter of the Education Tax Credit during budget negotiations, but would not pick a side on Cuomo’s proposal until he’s read the bill.
“Whenever you have the opportunity to improve the educational environment, I have to be interested in looking at the language,” Addabbo said.
Some educational advocates said the proposal breaks the barrier between church and state because it uses taxpayer money to subsidize private education.
“New York’s first obligation is to use tax dollars to adequately fund public education,” Timothy G. Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said in a joint statement issued by the Alliance for Quality Education. “Yet, there are great disparities in school district financial resources throughout the state. Lawmakers must remedy that situation before they provide tax incentives that would benefit non-public schools.”
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in AQE’s statement, “This tax credit is just another scheme to reward billionaires.”
“At the same time, it drains money from public schools,” Mulgrew added. “Supporters can use all the smoke and mirrors that they want, but in the end this is a scam that will hurt public school students.”
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Education Committee, said the proposal continues Cuomo’s negative record toward public schools. The UFT and other groups have slammed Cuomo for not visiting city public schools and for trying to pass legislation that would favor nonpublic entities.
“The governor has not been supportive of public schools and for him to turn around and try to raise additional funds for private schools is an insult to teachers,” Dromm said. “The governor would do better to visit a public school than to have these tax laws.”
Dromm, a former public school teacher, added that educators are already able to deduct “teaching expenses from your income tax.”