A window of opportunity has opened for parents of nonpublic-school students seeking tuition tax credits from the New York state government, according to Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference.
Politicians from both major parties are warming to the issue, and the governor has proposed a first-ever tuition tax credit, albeit a limited one.
“The tax-credit issue is a major one for us this year, and it appears that the momentum is firmly with us,” Poust said.
He noted that Gov. George Pataki has included in his proposed budget a plan to provide tax credits to parents of nonpublic-school students in underperforming public-school districts. Public-school districts are considered to be underperforming when they fail to meet student-achievement standards set by the federal government, Poust said.
According to the conference — which represents the state’s bishops in public policy — Pataki’s proposal would enable parents to receive credits for such expenses as tutoring, summer instruction and other supplementary instruction, as well as tuition at religious or independent schools.
In his state budget address in January, Pataki announced that he would include in his executive budget a $500-per-child education tax credit for parents of children in underperforming school districts. No other governor has ever done this, Poust said.
“The governor’s inclusion of a credit in his executive budget is historic,” he noted.
Poust added that the New York State Coalition of Independent and Religious Schools — of which the NYSCC is a member — is cosponsoring a rally at the state capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 14, to show support for legislation to enact education tax credits. The rally’s other cosponsor is a new organization called Teach NYS, which comprises lobbyists for Jewish, Catholic and private schools.
Many parishes and schools throughout the state plan on sending busloads of supporters to the rally, Poust said.
Sister Patricia Carroll, assistant superintendent for government services and administration in the Diocese of Rochester’s Department of Catholic Schools, said she plans to attend the Albany rally and is in the process of encouraging parents and others to attend as well. She urged diocesan school parents to visit the diocese’s Web site, www.dor.org, for information, which can be found by clicking on “Catholic Schools” and navigating to Feb. 14 under “Calendar of Events.”
Sister Carroll said she hopes nonpublic-school parents can build alliances with public-school parents by supporting tax credits for all. For example, the parents of any student should be able to receive a tax credit for purchasing a computer their child needs for school, she said.
Sister Carroll added that corporations could be brought on board the tuition-tax-credit bandwagon if they’re given credits for investing in both public and nonpublic schools. Such tax credits are called “education investment tax credits” and have been proposed on the state level in both the Assembly (bill A.6145) and Senate (S.3101).
Poust said the conference also supports efforts to provide tuition tax credits to all nonpublic-school parents in all districts. Such bills are called “personal expense tax credit bills,” and he urged Catholics to write their legislators and ask them to support S-1939 in the Senate and A-8203 in the Assembly.
In addition to the Feb. 14 rally, Poust said Catholics will be lobbying state legislators on the tax-credit and other issues during the conference’s annual Public Policy Day, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, at the state capitol.
Elizabeth Berliner, principal of Holy Family Junior High School in Elmira, said her school plans to send a delegation to Albany on Public Policy Day, and that her delegates will argue that Catholic-school parents save state and local governments money.
“When parents send their child to Catholic school, they pay out of the pocket for the education of their child and thus save the state/local municipality approximately $10,000 in tax money that would be applied to the education of their child,” she said. “The state/local government receives a tremendous benefit and should at least pass on a slight benefit to the parents by making that tuition tax exempt in the form of a credit. The parent is paying taxes for public education as well as the tuition to educate their child.”
One of the reasons Poust and other supporters of nonpublic schools are more optimistic about tax credits now than in the past is that the subject may become a real campaign issue in this year’s governor’s race.
Indeed, after Pataki announced his tax-credit plan, Eliot Spitzer, the state’s attorney general and the likely Democratic gubernatorial candidate, clarified his position on tax credits after it appeared that he had opposed the governor’s proposal.
In response to a reporter’s question, Spitzer initially said that Pataki’s proposal could face state constitutional problems. However, he later issued a statement that read: “These comments should not be construed to imply that I believe that there are such problems in Governor Pataki’s proposal, or that I am opposed to education tax credits. In fact, I support the idea of education tax credits.”
On his campaign Web site, Spitzer noted that he had in 2002 convened a task force that outlined constitutional ways to increase the assistance the state provides to nonpublic school students.
William Weld, a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor, also has stated that he supports education tax credits.