Give Credit Where It’s Due
(NY Daily News)
BY BISHOP NICHOLAS DiMARZIO, RABBI TZVI HERSH WEINREB & THE REV. A.R. BERNARD
Seeing that each child, whether rich or poor, has access to the best education available is more than good public policy. For us, it is a moral imperative. Helping a neighbor struggling financially isn’t just nice, it’s a Divine command.
With one policy – Education Tax Credits – our state’s elected leaders could do both: secure a better education for students while relieving financial stress from lower income and middle class families.
Yet, because these credits would be available to all children in New York, including those attending nonpublic schools, the policy has drawn fierce special interest opposition.
It is inconceivable to us that anyone opposes a tax credit specifically designed to help struggling parents hire a tutor, enroll their child in test or SAT prep courses, or get special needs services because perhaps one in 10 of those using the credit would use it on private – or Heaven forbid – parochial school tuition. Every analysis shows 90% of those benefiting will be public school students.
Perhaps that is why even United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten recently stated she was “very open” to helping all schools and all students, including private ones.
Yet opponents led by the state teachers union, convinced that children who don’t go to public school don’t deserve a place at the table, have trotted out flimsy rationale after flimsy rationale to sink the proposal, putting forward an alternative “child tax credit” having nothing to do with education.
They’ve tried calling the education tax credit unconstitutional, but a quarter century of Supreme Court precedent stood in their way. They’ve tried calling it unaffordable, but their own alternative is more expensive. They’ve tried saying they are protecting education spending – but the credit they propose never mentions the word “education.” Some even offered an excuse that they worried tuition might rise by the amount of the credit. By that logic, then:
New York shouldn’t cut the sales tax on clothing because merchants might raise prices by the tax savings. And there shouldn’t be any tax credits for higher education, because universities might raise tuition.
Without reason on their side, they resorted to hardball politics. And in Albany, that just might work. We are saddened, outraged and shocked that to date, the state Legislature has abdicated their responsibilities.
Public schools deserve our support. They have, by all accounts, done well this budget season – getting billions of dollars in new funding. Many days and many issues see us side by side with the unions representing New York’s public school teachers. Not this time. Their union pressed hard until the Legislature caved.
With the budget ink still wet, Jewish New Yorkers will soon sit down to the Passover seder. Christian New Yorkers will celebrate Easter Sunday. Both holidays center around how we can best impart crucial teachings to our children. We can only hope as our Legislative leaders, including two upstanding members of our respective faiths, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, sit with their own families, they will have stood up to special interests, standing with and for each and every family with a school-age child throughout New York.
DiMarzio leads the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. Weinreb is executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. Bernard is the spiritual leader of the Christian Cultural Center.
Originally published on April 6, 2006