Legislation that was envisioned decades ago by activists seeking to help parents deal with the crushing burden of paying private tuition may finally be at the end of the legislative tunnel, with several hurdles already overcome and one final one for passage looming by the end of March.
The bill, called historic by education activists, was proposed by Sens. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) and Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn). It would provide a significant dollar-for-dollar tax credit for education expenses — whether it’s for public school extracurricular activities, tutoring, or private and religious school scholarship funds.
Felder, activists say, has emerged a pivotal player in ensuring the bill’s passage.
“Without Simcha’s pushing this will go nowhere,” one activist said.
The bill allows any individual or corporation that owes New York state income tax to reduce
the payment dollar-for-dollar. It would not benefit those whose tax liability is less than the amount they donate.
“This would reduce the actual state income tax that had to be paid by the amount contributed to the fund,” Felder said. “For example, if somebody owes $500 in income taxes, they could contribute that entire $500 towards this fund and they would not have any state liability at all.”
While the vast majority of the funds are expected to consist of corporate donations for any type of education, this bill, if passed, would be a huge help for yeshivah parents.
The bill is worth a potential $300 million, with half going to public school programs and half going to scholarships for students who attend private schools.
The chairman of the Senate subcommittee on NewYork City education, Felder, who last year engineered the yeshivah transportation law that provided late-homecoming yeshivah boys with free busing, declared this bill as his top priority for the upcoming budget.
While the Senate passed the bill in their budget resolution last Thursday, the Assembly did not. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has indicated support for the measure.
The budget must pass by April 1, giving negotiators two more weeks to iron out a deal.
The legislation is also being pushed by many organizations representing private and religious schools. These include Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union and the NewYork Catholic Conference.
On Tuesday, New York City Cardinal Timothy Dolan and bishops from around the state made a lobbying push at the Capitol for the tax credit. The bill is seen as critical for Catholic schools, dozens of which have shut over the past few years.
Dolan and the bishops met with Cuomo and legislative leaders.
“We’re not talking about different schools — charters, public, Catholic, Jewish, private. No. we’re talking about our kids. Our kids are going to benefit from this,” Dolan said, surrounded by lawmakers and bishops at a news conference.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said after meeting with Dolan that he had “certain concerns” about what he called a new expenditure.
Dolan told reporters after finishing up his day of meetings that Silver “seemed to be wrestling” with the issue. But the cardinal expressed confidence.
“We would hope that they would not see it as state money, but as people’s money to be used for the education of the kids,” he said.