The New York State Catholic Conference is raising concerns about Gov. Kathy Hochul’s 2024 state budget proposal to expand charter-school access, saying the move would threaten the viability of Catholic schools.
Hochul’s proposed legislation would eliminate the regional cap on the number of charter schools in New York City, allowing additional charters to be issued there. James Cultrara, the Catholic conference’s education director, told the Catholic Courier that such legislation would have a “direct and immediate” negative impact on Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn.
“We also oppose the opening of any additional charter schools throughout the state, absent commensurate support for our tuition-paying families of the Catholic schools that are adversely impacted by the opening of those charter schools,” said Cultrara, who also serves as executive secretary of the state’s Council of Catholic School Superintendents.
Cultrara explained that the loss of students to new charter schools — tuition-free schools that operate independently — stand to deplete the finances of Catholic schools, some to the point of insolvency. He added that Catholic schools across the state already face an uphill financial battle, saying they receive far less public funding than charter schools while their families continue to pay both tuition and public-school taxes.
New York Catholic official, Rochester superintendent call for equity
Cultrara delivered testimony Feb. 8 in Albany at a joint legislative budget hearing on education spending. He spoke on behalf of the Catholic conference, which represents the state’s bishops on public-policy matters.
He implored the state Legislature to either reject Hochul’s proposal or, as an alternative, allot impact aid to affected religious and independent schools equaling the amount of lost tuition from families who enroll their children in charter schools.
Cultrara also called for the enactment of education savings accounts, direct scholarships or education investment tax credits to help expand the range of choices that families would have in choosing schools. He noted that these types of financial supports already exist in more than two-thirds of other states.
“Because of this, the adverse impact of charter schools on Catholic schools in those states is lessened,” he said.
James Tauzel, who serves as the Diocese of Rochester’s superintendent of schools, said his position on Hochul’s proposed legislation “is one on the issue of equity.”
“While we are advocates for school choice, introducing measures that would undercut Catholic schools as existing school-choice options would be a detriment to our students, whom we know thrive in a Christ-centered environment of academic excellence,” Tauzel said.
Rather than expand charter-school access in New York City and other parts of the state, he said, “We know how good our Catholic schools are, so why not work with the great schools already in our communities?”
Catholic conference encourages advocacy on budget proposal
Cultrara said the New York State Catholic Conference is encouraging advocacy so that Hochul’s proposed budget will be adjusted to provide more support for Catholic schools.
“We will be asking parents to convey their concerns to lawmakers in the coming days and weeks. So, as lawmakers finalize a state budget by March 31, they will have heard from thousands of Catholic-school families, teachers and principals who desperately need (financial) help,” he said.
While Cultrara expressed gratefulness to the state government for supporting Catholic schools in such areas as instructional materials, transportation, safety equipment and technology, “the fact remains that our schools operate on a dramatically uneven playing field,” he said.
“Even though 13 percent of children in New York state attend a religious or independent school, less than 1 percent of state education spending is devoted to these children,” Cultrara remarked. “The bulk of the cost of educating these children is shouldered by their families already overburdened with taxes to support the public education system.”Tags: Catholic Schools, NY Catholics