Fate of Tuition Aid Bill ‘Unknown’ as Deadline Looms

NEW YORK -

A potentially historic tuition aid bill is achingly close to passing, according to private school advocates.

But the fate of either version of the education tax credit currently before the legislature is unknown, even as lawmakers prepare to leave Albany on Friday as the session winds down for the year.

“Nobody knows,” one activist knowledgeable in the negotiations told Hamodia on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s impossible to know at this point.”

Activists from Agudath Israel of America, which last month termed the bill a “watershed” moment in aiding yeshivah parents with tuition, were up in Albany once again on Tuesday in a last-minute attempt to coax Assembly members to vote it in.

“The issue is still very much on the table,” an Agudah official said. “The governor is holding strong, the Senate is holding strong, it’s just an issue of how the Assembly will go.”

Participants on the mission included Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, the organization’s executive vice president; Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, vice president for community affairs; Leon Goldenberg and Chaskel Bennett, Agudah trustees; and Shai Markowitz.

The group met with Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, officials in the Cuomo administration and a number of Assembly members.

The effort received a boost Monday when Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams personally appealed to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to help pass the private education bill.

Noting that Brooklyn has 433 private schools serving more than 120,000 students — the most of any county in the nation — Adams in a letter called helping parents with tuition bills “an important goal.”

“The New York state legislature cannot miss this opportunity to help these families educate their children in the way they see fit,” Adams wrote, cc’ing all assemblymen in his letter.

The letter comes a day after Adams pledged in a meeting with leaders of the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition to get involved in the battle.

As the current legislative session winds down, a record three bills are in the pipeline that would help parents of non-public school students. This is a stunning shift from as recently as two years ago, when powerful teachers’ unions blocked any aid for private schools.

A beefed-up Republican majority in the Senate, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s battles with the teachers’ unions on tenure and raising the cap on charter schools, have opened up a rare chance to get the first real assistance for yeshivah parents in decades.

The only bill to have actually passed is one introduced by Sens. Simcha Felder and Martin Golden. The Senate voted earlier this year on a $150 million bill to allow donors to a scholarship fund to deduct 90 percent of the amount from their tax bill. The amount, which increases incrementally to $300 million in three years, is divided evenly between public school and private school expenses.

After a half-hearted lobbying effort for the bill in the budgetary process that ended in March, Cuomo last month proposed his own bill, which would allow only a 75 percent deduction and lowers the overall amount to $50 million.

However, in a move that has electrified tuition-payer advocates, Cuomo added a $70 million component that would give parents $500 a year for every child they pay tuition for, regardless of whether they pay taxes.

The drawback with the bill is that it is capped at $60,000 for a family of four. A third bill, sponsored by Assembly members Sheldon Silver and Rodneyse Bichotte and formally introduced on Friday, raises that cap to $120,000 and applies it to expenses for public school parents as well. It would also give $3,000 per child — with a maximum of $12,000 — rather than the $500 proposed by Cuomo.

Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan joined the bill as a sponsor. However, Silver’s and Bichotte’s plan does not have the education tax credit deduction, seen by some activists as the real solution to the tuition crunch.

This third bill has not gained traction in the Assembly and is seen as having little chance of passing.