The Bush administration is throwing its support behind Governor Pataki's effort to create more charter schools and his tuition tax credit proposal, which would allow families to use public dollars to help defray the cost of private and parochial schools.
During a visit yesterday to the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Queens, the U.S. secretary of education, Margaret Spellings, called Mr. Pataki a "warrior" and asked the audience to stand by him in the upcoming days as he hammers out school choice issues with the Legislature.
"He has been a true warrior and a true champion for public schools, as well as for options for parents and for school choice. And I fully support all that he is doing to raise the cap on charter schools as well as what he's doing here on the tax credit effort," Ms. Spellings said.
Her visit to Queens comes just as Mr. Pataki is facing off with state lawmakers over two school choice issues.
Mr. Pataki is pushing a $500 education tax credit for low-income parents in struggling school districts. The proposal would allow parents to use a portion of their tax liability on approved educational expenses tutoring, after-school programs, or private and parochial school tuition.
He also is looking to lift the statewide limit on charter schools to 250 from 100 and to allow the city's schools chancellor, Joel Klein, to open an unlimited number of the schools, which are independently run but publicly funded.
Lawmakers rejected both proposals as part of the legislative budget completed last week. Mr. Pataki is threatening to veto those changes. The first deadline for the budget is next Monday.
While Ms. Spelling is supporting the education tax credits for New York, there is no plan to include a similar proposal in President Bush's signature No Child Left Behind education law, which is up for reauthorization next year, a spokesman for Ms. Spellings said.
Yesterday, Ms. Spellings touted a federally funded scholarship program in Washington, D.C., that has granted about 1,700 low-income students up to $7,500 to attend private or parochial schools.
The Bush administration also is proposing a $100 million program to provide similar scholarships to low-income students in other schools nationwide that fail to meet the state standard for five or six years in a row.
Ms. Spelling said parents deserve the right to choose the best education for their children.
"I know that what happens in education happens here at the state and local level - this is where the rubber hits the road," she said.
Her visit yesterday also included a tour of the Allen Christian School founded by a former Democratic congressman, the Reverend Floyd Flake, who is the pastor of the church.
Yesterday, Mr. Flake touted the importance of allowing for more charter schools and said that his community, including the more than 18,000 parishioners of his church, would be supporting tax credits.
He said the support would be forthcoming "because people have come to the realization that education is the key that opens the door to opportunity," he said.
Other religious leaders, including representatives from the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America and the New York State Catholic Conference, also showed their support at yesterday's event.
Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations said yesterday that he would "pray" that the education credits are included in the final budget.
Mr. Pataki was scheduled to attend, but cancelled due to yesterday's snow. Other members of the audience included a Republican candidate for governor, William Weld, and a state senator of Queens, Malcolm Smith.
Some of the state's key interest groups, including the state and city teachers unions, regard the charter and tax credit provisions as an assault on the public school system. They fear that both proposals will drain much-needed dollars from the public schools. Critics also fear that the education tax credits would open the door to tuition vouchers.
Instead, the unions are supporting a general child tax credit, such as the one that has been approved by the Assembly and the Senate as an alternative to the governor's plan.That $330 tax credit would be available to all families, although they would not have to spend it on education-related expenses.
During her remarks, Ms. Spellings also criticized some schools for failing to notify families about options to transfer out of failing schools. She said the Department of Education has found that of the 4 million students in the country eligible to transfer from schools, just 38,000 did so.