Albany Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger, wrote an op/ed article that was published in the Times Union this morning. In it, he calls out the misinformation being put out by NYSUT, the teachers’ union, regarding the Education Tax Credit.
The bishop wrote:
A recent radio ad sponsored by New York State United Teachers features a pompous-sounding character called “Mr. Moneybags” falsely asserting that the Education Tax Credit is designed to allow the “super rich” to divert money to “elite” private schools.
Anyone who has ever set foot in one of our Catholic schools — whose students would be among those benefiting from the tax credit — knows that “elite” is about the least accurate term you can use. But why let the facts get in the way of a catchy radio spot, right?
But here are the facts: The popular teachers union talking point that the Education Tax Credit is a “scheme” to benefit the rich is a falsehood. The investment tax credit is available to anyone who makes a donation to public education or to scholarship-making organizations. It is not for millionaires; it is for schoolchildren. Furthermore, the family tuition credit recently added in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s expanded plan is only available to families with incomes up to $60,000. Hardly millionaires.
New York state routinely promotes policy objectives using the tax code. Many of the more familiar ones, such as tax credits for beer brewers, movie producers and this year, notably, for luxury yacht purchasers, are enacted for the stated purpose of promoting economic growth. But while these industries receive a tax credit to enhance profit, a donation to a scholarship program is made with an entirely different incentive – to provide a stronger future for children of families with more limited means.
When it comes down to it, isn’t a quality education for children in low-income families one of the strongest forms of economic development? Isn’t education of infinitely more value than propping up the yacht industry? If some of these education donors are millionaires, isn’t it a good thing that they are donating their money to scholarships or public schools? The education tax credit isn’t “giving” the wealthy money. It is a tool to help people of all economic means to give the kids more than they otherwise would have.
In the recently enacted state budget, state aid to education increased by $1.4 billion, bringing it to $23.5 billion. And this is before federal aid and local property taxes. The grand total of education spending in our state is $58 billion per year, of which religious and independent schools receive about 1 percent. Of that $58 billion, public school teachers receive about 80 percent of it in salary and benefits.
No one denies that our state’s teachers should be well compensated, but with such a large percentage of the state budget going directly to teachers, why would their union deny the opportunity for a program as modest as Cuomo’s $150 million education tax credit proposal that even includes a personal $200 tax credit for public school teachers’ out-of-pocket classroom expenses?
Yet these unions are the most virulent opponents of the tax credit, simply because it would presumably benefit families attending other schools. When you stop to consider this, the sense of entitlement is mind-boggling. The not-so-hidden assumption is that the people’s money belongs to the state solely for the sake of more funding for public schools, and that no one but the state can see that it is allotted fairly. And by that they mean almost exclusively to government schools, denying the exercise of the constitutional right of educational choice to those who can’t afford the double burden of public school taxes and tuition. No wonder our schools struggle to stay open with such an un-level playing field.
For more than a century, our Catholic schools have provided hope and opportunity to low- and middle-income Americans, Catholic or not, many of them new to our shores. As bishop of Albany, I am committed to not only preserving Catholic education but expanding it. Imagine how many more people we could serve if only there were additional scholarships to go around or a few hundred dollars more money in the pockets of low-income parents struggling to meet tuition costs. Instead, despite our vastly superior educational outcomes, we have half-empty classrooms, while the public schools down the street are overcrowded. There is something wrong with this picture.
NYSUT, with its “Mr. Moneybags” ad, may enjoy making a joke of helping families in need. But our parents – low-income, working class folks – fail to see the humor in keeping their kids trapped in failing schools. As do I.
For more info on the Education Tax Credit and to contact lawmakers, visit the NY State Catholic Conference Action Center.