NY Gov. Cuomo Launches Major Drive for School Choice

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled new school choice legislation last month
and immediately engaged in a whirlwind tour across the state to promote it. With appearances in Long Island and a Buffalo suburb on May 12, and at various locations in Brooklyn on May 17, Cuomo called on voters to urge legislators to pass the bill in the current session, scheduled to end June 17.

“This is not about politics; it’s not about religion,” said the governor. “It’s about fairness, and
it’s about choice, and it’s about opportunity.” Calling education the “gift that we give the next
generation,” Cuomo said the question is, “Who is going to make the decision about the hild’s education?” His answer was clear: “That decision should remain with the parent.”

But choice requires options, said Cuomo. Schools have to exist and parents have to be able to afford them. “That’s what the education tax credit does,” he said. “It gives parents the real choice, and it gives them real options, and it keeps religious schools open, and it makes it affordable for parents who are low- and middle-income. And that to me is inarguable.”

$150 Million Package

According to the governor’s Web site, the Parental Choice in Education Act would provide: “(1) Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools, (2) Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a nonpublic school, (3) Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming (like after school programs), and (4) Tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.”

The $150 million package would include $70 million in tax credits of up to $500 per student for families with annual incomes under $60,000. 

Another $50 million would be available for tax credits to encourage individuals and businesses to donate to scholarship-granting organizations. Since the tax credits would be worth 75 percent of the donation, they would yield $66.7 million in scholarships.

An additional $20 million would be available for tax credits to yield $26.7 million for ducation
improvement programs in public schools. 

Finally, $10 million would be used to provide tax credits of up to $200 to educators to offset
the out-of-pocket costs of classroom instructional materials and supplies.

Diverse Coalition

According to a poll released May 26 by Siena College in Loudonville, NY, voters in New York
City support Cuomo’s proposal by a 14-point margin, though voters in the downstate uburbs
and upstate region oppose it. “While white voters oppose the proposal, it is supported by a majority of black, Latino, Jewish, and Catholic voters,” said pollster Steven Greenberg. “It is strongly opposed by those earning more than $100,000 annually and supported by those earning less than $50,000,” he added.

The poll was conducted May 18-21 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points.

Commenting on the poll’s findings, Robert Bellafiore, spokesman for the InvestInEd Coalition, which supports the measure, told The Legislative Gazette, a newspaper that covers the state legislature, “Rarely, if ever, do you see one issue that unites African Americans and blacks, Latinos, Catholics and Jews like the education tax credit.”

Exemplifying the diverse support, Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, a CAPE member, said: “Governor Cuomo has offered a bold new proposal that in significant ways goes even farther than the educational investment tax credit that was under consideration earlier this year. This is a historic development, a tremendous breakthrough for the cause for which we have been advocating for many decades. Kudos to the governor for his vision, his persistence, his political courage!”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, highlighted the diversity saying, “This is not just a Catholic issue; it is an issue for every parochial, private, or nonpublic school that is devoted to the success of their students. 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.”

(Photo: Office of the Governor)