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Cuomo enlists cardinal to help push assistance for private, parochial schools

As if the governor stumping in Buffalo for a new bill to aid private schools weren’t impressive enough, Andrew M. Cuomo brought along the Catholic archbishop of New York on Tuesday.

Together, they made the case for a new $150 million assistance program that has met only a dead end in Albany over the last several years.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan joined the governor, Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone, Mayor Byron W. Brown and others at the Eggertsville Youth and Community Center to urge hundreds of enthusiastic supporters to rally their legislators for the bill’s passage in the waning weeks of the Legislature session.

While Cuomo has been on the receiving end of Catholic pressure in recent years to ramp up his efforts for the concept, he could not have proven more forceful in urging support during stops Tuesday in Eggertsville and Westbury, Nassau County.

“More and more Catholic schools have closed. Why?” he asked. “Because they can’t afford to stay open. Unless schools are affordable, you have no choice. And that’s what this is about.”

Cuomo, a product of Catholic education, emphasized that private and parochial schools of all denominations represent an important element of the state’s educational system because they offer families a choice.

While previous versions of the bill have failed, Cuomo’s new effort incorporates features that he hopes will lead to passage before the Legislature adjourns in June. He blamed prior failure on “political powers in Albany” who have so far stymied its passage. “You know who’s in favor of it?” he said. “The people of this state are in favor of it.”

Dolan, meanwhile, placed himself firmly behind Cuomo’s efforts as he outlined the need for Albany to recognize education as its “priority number one,” and for state government “to work together to get something done.”

“Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see our government rally around this, listen to the people, and give this no-brainer a chance?” Dolan said.

Cuomo’s proposed “Parental Choice in Education Act” would earmark $150 million in annual education tax credits for:

• Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools.

• Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a nonpublic school.

• Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programs, such as those after school.

• Tax credits to public school teachers to purchase supplies.

New elements of Cuomo’s bill, compared with previous legislative versions, include the family tax credit and the credit for supplies.

Supporters say the bill does not provide a credit for donations to religious schools, but to people who make donations to public schools or to nonprofit funds that provide private school scholarships. They say the state already provides $4.6 billion in tax credits every year for numerous purposes but none for elementary and secondary education.

But even a number of Cuomo’s Democratic allies continue to raise questions about the bill, including Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan of Buffalo. He outlined his objections in a letter this month to Malone, who had urged his support in the Assembly and who also spoke in Eggertsville on Tuesday.

“This legislation is an unprecedented effort to allow for individuals and corporations to direct payment of their tax liability, which would otherwise go to the State of New York general fund, to a foundation which benefits private schools,” Ryan told the bishop. “There is a big difference between a donation which involves making a gift of an individual’s resources, and a tax credit program which simply redirects an existing liability from the state to a private school.”

Ryan said the bill’s details have been disguised by a “clever and well-funded marketing campaign.”

“Even with a substantial school aid increase this year, nearly one-third of the state’s school districts will have less state aid in 2015-16 than six years ago,” said Andrew Pallotta, New York State United Teachers executive vice president. “Investing adequately and equitably in public education, not providing more tax giveaways to the wealthy who prefer private education, should be the state’s top priority.”