New York State Assembly credit proposal: One step forward, three steps back for private and public educated New York children.
Either the New York State Assembly doesn't get what we're fighting for or it wants to pretend that it doesn't. Its compromise tax credit counterproposal, which would deliver welcome tax breaks to parents, would simultaneously derail what has become the most successful push thus far for aid for parents of children who attend private school.
Under Governor Pataki's proposal, all New York City parents who pay for any educational expenses and earn up to $75,000 will be eligible for up to $500 in tax credits per child, whether it is to cover their private school child's tuition or their public school student's SAT course. Families earning between $75,000 and $90,000 will be eligible for credits in smaller increments. The Assembly counterproposal is just a worse proposal for anyone with children, whether they send them to public or private school.
Why is this a step backward? First, the Assembly plan completely rearranges the impetus for the tax break in the first place: that is, it continues to give parents money (which is wonderful), but it does not promote spending on education, the original aim of the Pataki plan. Supporters of the Assembly plan will tout the fact that it provides tax breaks for children of all ages and not just students, thus more broadly aiding New York parents. I welcome any attempt to help defray the cost of baby powder, but not at the expense of an attempt to help pay for private school costs. As nice as it is for low-income parents to get $200 toward diapers, a tax exemption of even $1 toward private school tuition sends a far more valuable message to private school families, for whom this issue is not just about the dollar amount of the exemption. Really, it's about getting the government to begin to be honest about how much tax money parents of private school children pump into a public school system that gives them very little, if anything, in return.
It is essential to consider that the governor's plan does not single out helping parents of private school students. It is estimated that 80% of the parents in New York City (and 87% statewide) who will benefit are the parents of students who attend public school. Clearly, Mr. Pataki's proposal marks not only a step in the right direction for religious communities, but for any community with failing public schools.
Secondly, the governor's plan is more generous for the families that need the money most. Under the Assembly plan, parents would receive up to $400 per child, on a sliding scale, for families earning up to $150,000 per year. In extending the threshold to $150,000, it would cost taxpayers $200 million (50%) more than the governor's plan. Finally, whereas Mr. Pataki's plan ensures that the tax credits are spent on the beneficiary's children's education, there is no vehicle to make sure that Speaker Silver's tax credits be spent on the beneficiary's children at all.
The governor's proposal is just a better plan. Its objective and approach make sense and it needs no counterproposal. Yet, someone convinced the Assembly that a counterproposal is necessary. It is no secret that the United Federation of Teachers would have you believe that allocating any state money for education outside of the public school system is some backdoor half step to an all-out voucher system and the end of public education. This is nonsense. While I strongly support vouchers and believe that public education could benefit from the competition, the resemblance between education tax credits and private school education tuition vouchers starts and ends with the word "education." To reiterate, in New York City, 80% of those who would benefit under Mr. Pataki's education tax credits will be public school students.
The biggest disappointment here is in the Assembly's attempt to appease special interests with its counterproposal. In my community, we have become used to disappointment in matters of tax credits and school vouchers, but for the Assembly to dress a wolf bill in sheep's clothing and act like it's actually a better proposal than the governor's education tax credits plan is dishonest. I'd appreciate it much more if the Assembly leadership came out and said, "Look, education tax credits are a contentious issue that we can't afford to touch, but here's a bone to chew on to keep things quiet for a little while."
In the meantime, let's not be fooled. In the City Council, I have signed onto a resolution that was introduced Wednesday, March 22, 2006, by my colleague, Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr., calling on the New York State legislature to pass the governor's proposal. You can help too! Dial 3-1-1 and find out the name and telephone number of your State Assemblyman and tell him or her that you support the governor's proposal. Then call Speaker Silver at (212) 312-1420. Tell him that while you appreciate his efforts, there is no substitute for supporting the education of all New Yorkers.
City Council Member Simcha Felder is chairman to the Governmental Operations Committee of the New York City Council. He represents the 44th District of the City of New York, which covers the communities of Midwood, Bensonhurst, and Borough Park in Brooklyn.