The education tax-credit bill pending in Albany would provide up to $125 million in donations to New York’s public schools. But the schools don’t want the money if it comes through tax credits, says a spokeswoman for the New York School Boards Association.
The statement comes as one of the bill’s key sponsors – state Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee – has refused to address criticism of his plan from the public sector.
The well-funded campaign to enact the tax-credit bill would provide dollar-for-dollar tax credits for donations totaling $250 million to public schools, their foundations, and scholarship programs for private schools. Half of the credits would be available for donations to private schools while the other half would go to public schools.
Individuals and corporations would be able to make donations covering up to 75 percent of their state tax liability. An individual with taxable income of $1 million would be liable for $67,000 in state taxes. The plan would allow that individual to direct up to $50,000 to his or her favorite public school, public school foundation, or private school scholarship fund.
“Now is not the time to propose tax credits of this nature,” said Association spokeswoman Barbara Bradley. “It would take money away from public education at a time when we are still dealing with the gap elimination adjustment.”
The adjustment, which was has been in force since 2010, deducts state school-aid promised in the education-aid formula because the state lacks the resources to fully fund what policymakers have determined districts should receive.
In addition, Bradley fears the plan would increase the disparities between wealthy and high-needs districts. She predicts that corporations and wealthy individuals would make tax-credit donations in wealthy districts, where the executives reside.
“High needs districts would not benefit from this,” Bradley said. “The donations would be made at the discretion of the donors, and would not be based on the education needs of students throughout the state.”
Attempts to reach Latimer were unsuccessful this week. Latimer spokesman Brian Hegt said the senator would speak with Tax Watch about the controversy concerning the Common Core curriculum, but not about the education tax-credit bill that he is sponsoring.
Latimer was on stage at Westchester County Center on Nov. 19 with several Westchester state legislators who backed the bill, as an estimated 5,000 students came to hoot and holler in support of increased public support for their private school education. Another Westchester senator, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, is also one of the bill’s sponsors. Latimer told Tax Watch in November that he backed the bill as a way to buck up the finances of the region’s private and parochial schools.
“He’s so much more focused on the Common Core,” Hegt said. “There are other legislative leaders you should contact. Ruth Hassell-Thompson spoke at the rally. George was just sort of there. For the balance of your story, you are probably better off talking to them.”
Also helping promote the bill is state Sen. Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, who chairs the Independent Democratic Caucus, which has a power-sharing arranged with Senate Republicans. His district includes Pelham and the Fleetwood neighborhood of Mount Vernon.
Klein says the tax-credit plan would infuse public and private school with private funding that they all could use.
“The vast majority of public and private schools depend on some level of private funding to help meet student needs,” he said. “We want to encourage more New Yorkers to give to our schools, regardless of where they send their children each day. I don’t think it’s smart policy to deny funding for any of our schools, whether they are public, private or parochial. The fact of the matter is, New York families depend on all of them to educate our young people.”
Among the Westchester religious schools that sent students to the rally was Solomon Schechter, of Westchester, the K-12 Hebrew school with campuses in White Plains and Hartsdale.
“Families at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester support enactment of the proposed Education Investment Tax Credit Act to help generate more charitable donations from individuals and businesses for scholarship opportunities for children and for public schools,” said Schechter spokeswoman Sheila Yossum. “It’s a ‘win-win’ for education. They greatly appreciate the support for this legislation by members of the state legislature.”