Governor Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders came to a framework agreement on several end-of-session items June 23 as Catholic New York was going to press. However, the Parental Choice in Education Act was not one of them.
Cardinal Dolan and other New York State bishops and religious leaders had campaigned hard for the Parental Choice Act, which would have provided a $500 tuition tax credit for families making $60,000 per year or less who send their children to a religious or independent school. It also would have contained an education investment tax credit to individuals and corporations who donate to public schools and scholarship-making organizations, and a $200 personal tax credit for public school teachers for incurred out-of-pocket classrooms expenses.
Lawmakers did agree to a cash infusion of $250 million for un-reimbursed mandated services aid to non-public schools. Cuomo said the aid would benefit both private schools and the public system, which would have to absorb students from financially ailing private schools that may have to close.
“I am heartened by the promising news out of Albany that the Governor and the leadership of the State Senate and State Assembly have reached an agreement that will enable the payment of $250 million in un-reimbursed services to Catholic and other religious and non-public schools around New York State,” said Cardinal Dolan in a statement. The cardinal thanked Cuomo and legislative leaders for recognizing the needs of Catholic schools in the action they did take. “This money, which has been owed many years, is sorely needed by our schools, many of which have been struggling to stay open,” he said.
The cardinal said that Catholic leaders had been part of a broad coalition of other religious leaders, business executives, labor unionists and parents that had fought hard for the tax credits. He said he was saddened the campaign came up short and they were ready to redouble their efforts to make sure the bill passed next year.
The cardinal said Catholic schools have been a lifeline for years for low-income families in the state. “Our schools have helped countless children, many of them new to our shores, reach their full potential and rise out of poverty,” he asserted. He said he was committed to maintaining a strong Catholic school system and would continue to urge lawmakers to “finally do their part” in helping parents exercise their right to educational choice for their children. “We remain ever more committed to the principle of parental choice in education,” said the cardinal.
The tentative deal was hammered out almost a week after the last officially scheduled day of the legislative session had passed. At press time, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had not yet briefed their respective conference members on the agreement’s details.