Felder Calls for ‘Parent Petition’ on Tuition Tax Credit

ALBANY -

With the governor and Senate behind a potentially historic education tax credit and the Assembly voicing doubts, a Brooklyn lawmaker is calling for a “parent petition” to bombard Albany to “pass the Education Investment Incentives Act now.”

Simcha Felder, a state senator who is a sponsor of the legislation in his chamber, sent out a sternly worded statement on Tuesday after the Assembly’s proposed budget did not include the tax credit.

“Shame On You! Assembly Fails Us Again,” the release was headlined.

“Members of the Assembly have talked and talked about the importance of including the EITC in the budget,” Felder said. “But their actions today show that they are not truly ready to put the needs of tuition-paying parents before their own political agenda.”

With Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, having released his budget plan, and both the Senate and Assembly proposing their own spending blueprints, negotiations will begin this week to hammer out a final budget before the March 30 deadline.

A group representing New York’s non-public schools, which includes yeshivos, said that the nearly three-decade fight for tax credits will be won, but lawmakers must stand on the right side of history.

“I have been working to get a bill like this passed for 30 years,” said James Cultrara, the co-chair for the New York State Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools. “Please, make sure it doesn’t take 31 years to get this done.”

The EITC would allocate funding — $150 million in the Senate version, $100 million in Cuomo’s proposal — for education scholarships, half of which benefits tuition-paying parents, while the other half would go towards additional resources and programming for public schools.

It offers New Yorkers the opportunity to take the amount of tax they owe to New York state, and instead contribute those dollars to scholarship-granting foundations.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie promised at an event last month hosted by Assemblyman Dov Hikind that the “EITC is on the [negotiating] table.”

However, he told a radio interviewer on Friday that “there wasn’t enough support [in the Democratic conference] … to move forward with that.”

Still, Heastie — who himself was a sponsor of the EITC until he removed his name from all bills following his ascension as speaker last month — wouldn’t completely close the door to the approval of the tax credit, calling it an “open discussion.”

“The governor would like to see it and the Senate supports it, so I would say we’ll stay tuned on that issue as well,” Heastie said.

Instead, the Assembly proposed spending nearly $24 billion on education — up from $21.5 billion this year. But the tax credit, worth between $100 million and $150 million, was nowhere in the document.

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democrat who represents Midwood, told Hamodia the Assembly did not put in the credit since they knew the Senate has it in their budget proposal. Each chamber’s proposal represents the issues they want on the negotiating table.

“It will be in the Senate one-house budget, and the two of us will negotiate,” Cymbrowitz said.

Cymbrowitz denied that not putting it into the Assembly proposal meant it was not a priority for them.

“The Senate does the exact same thing as to what they want on the table. … For example, the DREAM Act (giving illegal immigrants tuition aid) is in our budget because we knew it would not be in the Senate budget,” he said.

However, Felder said that “by deliberately excluding the bill from the budget, the Assembly has sent a loud and clear message that the legislation is, in fact, not a priority at all.”

This is the second year Felder, a Democrat, and Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican — both from Brooklyn — sponsored the bill. Last year it went down to defeat in the Assembly amid accusations that Cuomo did not do enough to muscle it through.

This year, Felder said in January, when the Senate passed a version of the tax credit, that he would lead a statewide campaign to ensure its passage. He has already conducted meetings with yeshivah administrators explaining the bill’s promise.

“The Assembly and the governor must pass the Education Investment Incentives Act now,” Felder said.

“To join the petition and voice your support for this important Education Tuition Credit, send an email to TuitionCreditNow@gmail.com,” he wrote in his release.

On other issues, the Assembly would extend mayoral control of New York City schools until 2022 and raise funding for universal pre-kindergarten to $835 million — including $80 million for New York City.

Another issue Orthodox groups have been watching in the school aid funding debate is a change in the formula of how the East Ramapo school board gets its funding. The district, which is home to Monsey and New Square, receives far less than it should based on its poverty level and number of schoolchildren.

The dwindling funds have led to clashes between minority groups who send to public school and the Orthodox-led school board. It reached a peak last month when the state-appointed monitor requested veto power over how the school board is run.

Senate majority leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said he is looking into a way to change how the district is evaluated. That would entitle it to additional funding.