New York state’s Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo introduced the Parental Choice in Education Act at a May 12 rally on Long Island. The governor called on concerned citizens to push the state Legislature to pass the act, which would provide $150 million in education tax credits intended to support and protect alternative school options for parents and students throughout the state.
"Education is the greatest gift that a parent can give to their children — and it is also one of the most personal decisions that a parent can make. That’s why we need to support parental choice in education," Cuomo explained during the rally, noting that his message to taxpayers was simple. "We need you engaged to pass this law. … You have to go to your assemblyman, you have to go to your senator and say, ‘We want the education tax credit passed this year. Don’t come home without it.’"
The Parental Choice in Education Act would provide:
* Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools. This Family Choice Education Credit accounts for $70 million of the act’s $150 million in credits. Families who earn less than $60,000 per year would qualify for credits of up to $500 per student for tuition expenses associated with sending their children to nonpublic or out-of-district public schools. The governor estimates theses credits would benefit approximately 140,000 children in 82,000 families across the state.
* Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either nonpublic schools or public schools outside their local districts. This tax credit totaling $50 million would be available to individuals and businesses who made donations to not-for-profit organizations that award scholarships to students in prekindergarten through 12th grade. These donors would be eligible for a tax credit for up to 75 percent of their donations. The not-for-profit organizations, meanwhile, would award $67 million in scholarships to private and out-of-district public schools based on the financial need of the students’ families.
* Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming, such as afterschool programs. Individuals and businesses who donated funds to public schools and not-for-profit organizations that support public schools’ educational programs would be eligible to receive a total of $20 million in tax credits for up to 75 percent of their donations. Public-school students and educators would benefit from $27 million in new funds for education improvement programs.
* Tax credits to public-school teachers for the purchase of supplies. This $10 million component of the Parental Choice in Education Act would provide a tax credit of up to $200 per public-school educator to support the purchase of instructional materials and supplies used in their classrooms. It would be administered on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are approximately 400,000 students, or roughly 15 percent of all students in New York state, enrolled in nonpublic schools, according to information provided by the governor’s office. These nonpublic schools provide an important educational alternative, especially in communities around the state’s 178 failing public schools, yet many parochial schools in New York are experiencing financial hardship and 75 have closed in the last five years, Cuomo said, noting that his own alma mater, St. Gerard Majella Parochial School in Queens, has since closed.
Although these nonpublic schools provide important alternatives for families, especially those with low incomes or living in overcrowded or failing districts, they are not the right choice for every family, said Cuomo, who sent his three daughters to a public elementary school.
"There is no right or wrong choice. That’s not what we’re saying," he said, explaining that parents should have the ability to choose where to send their children. "But, to have a choice means you need to have options. If you had no options, then you have no choice."
This issue of parental choice in education is not just a Catholic issue, noted Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who joined Cuomo at the May 12 rally.
"It is an issue for every parochial, private or nonpublic school that is devoted to the success of their students," Cardinal Dolan said. "Our students are our greatest treasure and the Parental Choice in Education Act is all about supporting them no matter where they go to school."
The Parental Choice in Education Act would make a fundamental difference in the lives of students, families and educators across the state, Cuomo said, calling on taxpayers to encourage the Legislature to pass the act during the last remaining month of the current legislative session.
"If you speak up, this will pass. We need you to go first," he said.