Gov. George E. Pataki created quite a stir when he included plans for an education tax credit in his state budget proposal. The tax credit, which he called one of the most important initiatives of his tenure as governor, has the opportunity to reshape education policy in a bold and positive way. Four additional education tax credit bills have been introduced in the State Legislature, and three of them boast bipartisan and bicameral support.
Not all stakeholders are enthusiastic, however. In testimony before the budget committees of the State Legislature, a spokesman for the state teachers union criticized the governor's tax credit proposal by claiming that it fails to help public schools. This heated rhetoric appears to be more a knee-jerk reaction to other items the union opposes -- including expanding public charter schools and failure to settle an education-funding lawsuit -- than a statement based on fact.
The potential benefits to struggling public schools of an education tax credit are too important to ignore and too crucial to be covered up by opponents of reform. The state Division of the Budget estimates that 87 percent of the program's benefits would go to families of students attending public schools in eligible districts. That's $348 million of the total estimated impact of $400 million when the education tax credit is fully implemented.
The New York State Council of School Superintendents recognizes the potential windfall from an education tax credit policy, stating in its analysis of the governor's budget: "[A] district could use the pooled value represented by the credits to hire teaching assistants to give struggling children extra help, or to buy more up-to-date instructional materials." The New York State School Boards Association also predicted that most parents likely would opt to claim a credit against expenditures they made related to the education of their children in local public schools.
Of course, a parent can offset $500 of the cost of private school tuition with this credit. To some families, this amount of assistance may even make the difference in being able to access a local private school.
But whether parents choose to offset expenses at a private school or enhance their children's experience at a public school, an education tax credit program introduces elements of choice and opportunity in education where none existed before.
A diverse group of New Yorkers -- including inner-city minority leaders, school choice advocates, the business community, independent school operators and others -- have become vocal advocates for the adoption of an education tax credit in New York.
Education tax credits have garnered bipartisan support because the policy benefits all students and provides greater equity in access to high-quality education programs and services. In the end, New York's families and schoolchildren will be the direct beneficiaries of this significant educational opportunity.
Andrea Rogers, a University at Buffalo graduate, is a research associate at the Albany-based Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability.