The New York state budget will be passed this week and, now for the fourth time in a row, it will be “on time.” As always the lead up to the budget is intense and involves the leaders of the Assembly and the Senate who hammer out the final details, and compromises, with the Governor. The Governor is very proud of his “record” of having four budgets on time.
This is good enough in itself but it has been won at a very steep price – that is a steep price for Catholics and for anyone other religious and non-governmental group that cares about religiously-based schools.
The budget includes an increase of 1.1 billion dollars. $300 million goes to Pre-K for New York City schools whose Mayor earlier said he preferred to get his money by taxing the rich. He’s happy with the state gift. Many more go to Charter Schools which are also, in a sense, government schools because they are for profit schools with a charter from the state to make money through offering parents an alternative to the dreadful public schools in places like the City. Was anyone left out? Yes! The proposal for an education tax credit available to individuals and groups who wished to give money to support private and/or public schools was thrown under the bus. Out of $1.1 billion, the leadership was unwilling to allow $150 million become available to all the religiously based and other private schools in the whole state of New York! That would have been far less than one percent of the increase in education spending.
How did this happen? The details are unknown. We do know that, to the end, Senator Skelos was firm in his commitment and in his support arguing for the education tax credit. We do know that Speaker Silver offered “extra help” in giving us money we already are owed. He did not support the education tax credit. We do know that the public teachers’ unions are politically very strong and continue to have a visceral negative attitude to any school that is not a government school. And we also know that the Governor verbally supported us whenever the bishops of New York spoke with him (last on March 18) or the Cardinal contacted him. But words are not enough. One wonders how long Catholic parents will put up with verbal support that gives them no relief, and gives those helping parents pay tuition to Catholic schools with no incentive, to keep on giving without anything more than a pat on the back.
We live for another day. Disappointing as this is, we will continue to press for legislation that allows those who wish to have a tax credit to support religious and other private schools. We are grateful to all the labor unions and other groups who joined with us in this effort. I am especially grateful to the Senators and Assembly members from Long Island, Republicans and Democrats, who were co-sponsors of our bill. All but two of them in the Assembly kept their pledge to us!
The Governor asked the bishops at our last meeting which was more important to us, the money or the principle. We all agreed it is the principle that private and religiously based school in justice should have available a tax credit for those who support our schools. We will continue to fight for the principle and, from that we will, also in justice, seek to have the funds for education tax credits for all New Yorkers and not just for some.