Tuition Aid Bill: Lawmaker Gives Explosive Answer for No Support

NEW YORK

An assemblywoman representing a significant portion of Orthodox Midwood insinuated in an interview Saturday night that racism was behind the pressure for her to support a broad-based bill to help low-income private school parents with the tuition burden.

Rodneyse Bichotte, a freshman lawmaker, wondered out loud on Leon Goldenberg’s “Community Matters” radio show why “you guys” didn’t press her Jewish predecessor as much to support the education tax credit bill currently before the legislature.

Bichotte, a Haitian-American who last year replaced the retiring Rhoda Jacobs, started questioning the motives of those pressuring her almost as soon as the interview began.

“As a freshman coming in, I did not want to commit to something that I know my Jewish predecessor and my former Jewish speaker-leader did not support,” said Bichotte, referring to former Speaker Sheldon Silver, who stepped down earlier this year.

“No one — no one — ever pushed them (Silver and Jacobs) the way you guys are pushing me,” she said. “And I have to ask, is it because I’m a woman? Black? I mean, is it because I’m a freshman? I expect the same level of respect and by the same standard of understanding.”

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who represents a nearby district, issued a strongly worded statement, condemning Bichotte for “creating divisiveness where none exists.”

“Tax credits have never been a racial issue,” Hikind said.

An email to Bichotte went unanswered by the time we went to print.

During the 17-minute interview, Bichotte repeatedly pointed to separate legislation she co-sponsored, which will allow a tax credit to any parent who sends to school, irrespective of income or whether the school is public or private.

“You guys — many of you should be very happy that I am even sponsoring a bill that is addressing this,” she said. “…And it’s not like the majority of the Jews in the district have voted for me or supported me. OK?”

Incredulous, Goldenberg asked her if she was elected to “represent the entire district or just part of the district.”

“I’m representing the entire district,” Bichotte responded. “But definitely the people that I listen to are the people who support me. Because they’re the ones who are going to vote me in. … Why should I listen to people who are not even going to support me?”

The battle for tuition aid has spiraled downward ahead of the June 17 end of session, the deadline to pass it.

There are currently two bills before the legislature. One, which has already passed the Senate, would give a 90 percent tax deduction for donors to a scholarship fund. That bill, capped at $150 million, would be divided — half for public schools and half for private.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month proposed his own bill. Similar to the Senate’s bill, it provides a tax deduction to donors, although he cut it to $50 million, only allowed 75 percent of the contribution to be deducted from the state tax bill, and limited it to low-income non-public school parents.

However, in a move that has electrified some private school advocates, Cuomo also added a $500 per child tax credit to go directly to the parents, even if they don’t pay taxes.

Bichotte, like most of the Assembly Democrats, has not supported either one. In an expensive and increasingly nasty radio ad and mailer campaign, unions affiliated with public school teachers have been calling the proposed bill a “shady giveaway … for Wall Street and the wealthy.”

In one example, a reader in Flatbush sent into a Hamodia a mailer that urges him to “call Assemblyman [Steve] Cymbrowitz [and] ask why he supports diverting money due our public schools and giving it to private schools and the Governor’s billionaire friends.”

The reader urged any recipient of a similar mailer to contact their lawmaker in support of the bill.

It is obvious that a lot of money is going into the union campaign against tuition relief. Each mailer is targeted at that specific district, detailing how much money would be “diverted” from that district’s public schools if the tax credit bill were to pass. A New York State United Teachers union spokesman said they are spending in the “low six figures.”

One radio ad, sponsored by NYSUT, features a “Mr. Moneybags” character claiming that the bill is designed to allow the “super rich” to divert money to “elite” private schools.

Hikind denounced the “misinformation” being spread, asserting that religious school parents are more likely to be poor than “elite.”

“These tax credits do not put one dime in the pockets of the so-called rich,” he said. “But most importantly … for Bichotte to state that she is being targeted because she is a black woman is so ludicrous it boggles the mind. … What a terrible shame it would be if the vital issue of Education Tax Credits … were to be cast unfairly and shamefully as a racial issue.”

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