Battle rages over NY education tax credit

ALBANY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is urging the state Legislature to bring to the floor a vote on a controversial tax credit that would aid private schools amid opposition from Democratic lawmakers and teachers' unions.

Cuomo on Sunday made a swing through New York City churches and a Brooklyn yeshiva to promote his Parental Choice in Education Act, which would provide $150 million in education tax credits to aid private schools and provide other incentives to public and private schools.

With a month left in the legislative session, the Democratic governor urged the Legislature, in particular the Democratic-led Assembly, to put the bill to a vote. The measure is backed by religious groups and Senate Republicans, but opposed by the powerful teachers' unions that are aligned with Assembly Democrats.

"We've been talking about passing this bill for years and years. It just doesn't happen," Cuomo told reporters in Brooklyn.

"And part of the game they play in Albany is everybody says, "Oh, I'll vote for the bill if the bill comes to the floor.' But they never put the bill on the floor, so you never really knows who supports it and who doesn't support it. And I'm saying to them this year: Stop playing the game."

A spokesman for Assembly Democrats said the conference doesn't support the bill, saying it is focused on increasing the minimum wage and providing tuition assistance to students in the country illegally, called the Dream Act. The New York State United Teachers union released a radio ad Monday criticizing the education tax credit.

"We are focused on issues like the DREAM Act and passing a higher minimum wage," said Assembly Democrats' spokesman Michael Whyland. "There is not enough support for the credit."

Cuomo has sought to tie the education-tax credit to the Dream Act -- which is a top priority for Assembly Democrats, but opposed by Senate Republicans — so neither bill has gone anywhere.

The Parental Choice in Education Act would provide tax credits to low-income families who send their children to private schools, and it would offer scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a private school.

Other components would give incentives to public schools for after-school programs and offer tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.

Cuomo's office said that 400,000 students, or about 15 percent of all students in New York state, attend private schools. He pointed out that the credit would help private schools that are struggling financially by helping families pay for the programs.

About 75 parochial schools in New York have closed in the last five years, Cuomo's office said, and average tuition can reach as high as $8,500 per student annually.

The $70 million tax credit would be available for families with incomes below $60,000 per year. They would qualify for up to $500 per student for tuition expenses to nonpublic schools. Cuomo's office estimates the credit would benefit about 140,000 children and 82,000 families.

Teachers would get a tax credit of up to $200 to support the purchase of instructional materials and supplies for their classrooms.

NYSUT's ad claims the bill would be "a shell game allowing corporations and the super rich to divert tax dollars to elite private schools."

NYSUT's president Karen Magee said in a statement: "We don't need another giveaway to the rich. What we need is a fair approach to education funding that benefits all students."

Cuomo, who went to Catholic school in Queens, called it a "farce and a sham" if the measure isn't brought to the floor for a vote before the session ends.

"At least be honest with the people," Cuomo continued. "Because what they have done up until now is a game. It's been a sham. They are afraid to say they are against the bill, so everybody says they support the bill, but then they don't actually vote."


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