The defeat of the Parental Choice in Education Act in Albany late last month won’t deter advocates from seizing another opportunity for its passage on behalf of school children next year, said the superintendent of schools for the archdiocese. Describing parental choice as “a fundamental need in education,” Dr. Timothy J. McNiff last week shared his disappointment with CNY that the legislation failed to pass at the close of the legislative session June 23.
Yet, he remains hopeful about ongoing advocacy given the momentum gained from the most recent efforts.
“We do not underestimate the progress that we believe we have made up in Albany as a result of this most recent effort on our behalf,” he said.
He cited Cardinal Dolan’s leadership and influence in propelling the matter forward, especially by bringing the legislation to the attention of others.
Cardinal Dolan and other New York State bishops and religious leaders campaigned for the Parental Choice Act, which would have provided a $500 tuition tax credit for families making $60,000 per year or less who send their children to a religious or independent school. It also would have contained an education investment tax credit to individuals and corporations who donate to public schools and scholarship-making organizations, and a $200 personal tax credit for public school teachers for their out-of-pocket classrooms expenses.
Lawmakers did agree to a cash infusion of $250 million for un-reimbursed mandated services aid to non-public schools. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the aid would benefit both private schools and the public system, which would have to absorb students from financially ailing private schools that may have to close.
“While this is clearly a consolation that the lawmakers did advance the largest single appropriation for our schools in history,” Dr. McNiff said, “this is money that has been owed to us from prior years—it’s not new money.”
That the appropriation will be coming forward because it has been imbedded in the governor’s budget is progress, Dr. McNiff said.
The subject is also scheduled for the agenda of the July 22 meeting in Albany of the New York State Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council for Nonpublic Schools, of which Dr. McNiff is chairman.
“Even though what has developed has some positives
to it, it still hasn’t addressed a fundamental concern—that the state needs to recognize the importance of private and parochial education, and that that recognition needs to come by way of greater support for our schools,” Dr. McNiff said. “The educational tax credit is the best, most effective way to provide that support, thus promoting parental choice in the state of New York.
“It’s predicated on that belief we’re going to continue to advocate for its passage,” he said.
Dr. McNiff also applauded the advocacy of the Foundation for Opportunity in Education. The coalition, he said, was “singularly focused on getting this piece of legislation passed. They were immensely helpful.” The grassroots support from the foundation, he said, “has a tremendous amount of synergy and will continue to have it,” Dr. McNiff said of the diverse group that is growing among individuals and community-and faith-based organizations, as well as labor unions and businesses.
Progress on the tax credit is apparent, Dr. McNiff noted, through a number of markers. “Despite the increasing intensity of opposition from the state public schools teachers union, the majority of legislators— both Democrat and Republican—continue to support the education tax credit,” he said. “That is a significant fact.”
Dr. McNiff noted Governor Cuomo’s “support and his personal advocacy” for the measure “has clearly intensified over the last three years.”
The superintendent of schools also cited his appreciation for the support of the education tax credit by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and Senators Martin Golden and Sen. Simcha Felder, as well as Assemblymen Michael Cusick and Michael Simanowitz.
Dr. McNiff said advocates of the Parental Choice in Education Act are also pleased that New York has been highlighted on the national stage because of educational reform. “That’s tremendous progress,” he said.
“At the end of the day,” continued Dr. McNiff, “it was really the Assembly’s leadership that just refused to approve this measure.”
However, he reiterated, “our efforts are going to only intensify.”