Long-talked about legislation billed as historic was proposed Tuesday in the New York state legislature that would provide a significant tax credit for any sort of education expenses — whether it’s for public school extracurricular activities, tutoring, or private and religious school tuition.
Few details are being released about the bill since it is still being hammered out between the Cuomo administration and the leadership of the Senate and Assembly. But if it passes by the budget deadline at the end of March — and supporters say it is expected to pass since all players in Albany are backing it — it could take various forms.
Options eyed by the bill’s sponsors — Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) and Marty Golden (R-Flatbush) in the Senate and Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island) in the Assembly — include either a corporate or individual tax credit. The total amount of the proposal is also not clear although a $250 million price tag has been mentioned in previous reports.
According to James Cultrara of the Catholic Conference, promises have been secured by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the leadership of the Senate and Assembly for the long-awaited bill to pass. He said it was “win-win proposals like this that should become law.”
Jeff Leb, the Orthodox Union New York director of political affairs who has been pushing the issue, injected a note of caution, saying that this bill has already been proposed twice before.
However, Leb said, “if passed, this tax credit would be a game-changer for all yeshivos throughout New York State and would go a very long way in assisting parents with the rising cost of tuition.”
Leb said that the bill proponents are working on ensuring that the bill is not “neutered” by a too-low income eligibility cap.
The bill has been floated for years by both the yeshivah and Catholic school system; the latter has seen dozens of its schools closed in New York over the past few years. The GOP-controlled Senate passed a similar bill two years ago but it was not taken up by Assembly Democrats.
It is only now that sponsors are confident that they have the support necessary to pass it.
“Families with children enrolled in religious or private institutions will at long last get relief from back-breaking and escalating tuition costs,” Felder said in a statement.
“This legislation will advance New York State’s interest in providing the highest quality of education to all students,” Golden said.
The state’s approximately 400,000 non-public school students have long been shut out of direct funding over constitutional concerns. Efforts to get around the 19th century anti-Catholic Blaine amendment have foundered due to strong union opposition. This bill, if passed, would be the first significant relief to yeshivah and other private school parents since attempts began a half century ago.
“The Scholarship Tax Credit is an idea whose time has come,” remarked Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel. “Public schools will benefit, nonpublic schools will benefit — and most of all, needy families will benefit by gaining access to scholarship funds for their children’s education.”
The bill does not give money directly to parents; it is not a voucher. Rather, it is aimed at generating increased funding for education by enhancing existing tax benefits for charitable donations. The exact amount is still being worked on in negotiations with the executive branch — numbers previously thrown around were $5,000 a pupil.
The goal of the bill is to help both public and non-public school teachers with out-of-pocket school supply expenses, and to assist many low- and middle-income families whose children attend private or religious schools and require scholarships.
The measure will probably not refund tuition payments similar to an earned income credit.
According to the statement, the tax credit can be applied against New York State personal income, corporate, bank, franchise, or insurance taxes. Contributions can be made to school districts, individual schools, and community-based education groups.