‘Pieces in Place’ for Passage of Crucial Budget

With the publication last week of a proposed state budget by each of the two legislative houses in Albany — the Senate and the Assembly — negotiations between the two houses and Governor Andrew Cuomo are on course to decide the final version of the New York State budget within the next two weeks.

As explained by Mrs. Deborah Zachai, Agudath Israel of America’s director of education affairs, among the issues on the negotiating table are several budgetary initiatives that could yield substantial benefits for yeshivos and other nonpublic schools across the state. “The pieces are in place for potentially tremendous progress,” she stated, “and it would behoove our community to continue to impress upon our government leaders the importance of coming to agreement on these funding proposals.”

Most significantly, the Senate’s proposed budget includes a substantial allocation for the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC), which has been identified by Agudath Israel and other nonpublic school advocacy groups as the top legislative priority for the coming fiscal year. The EITC would provide a powerful incentive for private donations to scholarship organizations that contribute toward the tuition costs for needy students in nonpublic schools.

According to Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, Agudath Israel’s vice president for development and state relations, “similar programs in other states across the country, such as Pennsylvania and Arizona, have translated into substantial funding for needy students attending yeshivos and day schools in those states. If the Senate is successful in maintaining the EITC in the final negotiated budget, it could generate an infusion of many millions of dollars into the yeshivah community in New York.”

Other important issues that are up for discussion in the budgetary negotiations in the days ahead include the level of mandated services reimbursement for the costs incurred by nonpublic schools in carrying out state mandates; funding for nonpublic school compliance with the state’s Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP), and the repayment of the state’s longstanding debt to nonpublic schools under the CAP program; the inclusion of nonpublic schools in a new “Smart Schools” bond initiative that will upgrade technology in classrooms across the state; and funding for nonpublic school safety grants.

“These next two weeks,” said an Agudah spokesman, “are absolutely critical in determining the level of support our yeshivos will receive from Albany this coming year.  The EITC, in particular, is potentially a real ‘game-changer.’”