Carrying signs and chanting "Governor Cuomo, keep your word," 300 students, parents and educators gathered at Niagara Square in downtown Buffalo on May 28 to make Gov. Andrew Cuomo hold a promise he made to Catholic schools.
In March, Cuomo promised the eight bishops of New York state that he would pass the Education Investment Tax Credit bill. The tax credit was not included in the 2014-2015 state budget.
"I was in the room a couple of months ago with Cardinal Timothy Dolan and all of my brother bishops from the eight dioceses of New York state when Governor Cuomo looked us in the eye, it was March 18, and assured us that as part of the budget process, this critical piece of legislation would in fact be enacted, providing much-needed financial support to private and public schools. The promise was made right there and right then. I heard it with my own ears," said Bishop Richard J. Malone at the rally. "But when the final budget was approved, the Education Investment Tax Credit, very sadly, was nowhere to be seen. We still have not been given an answer as to why that happened."
Bishop Malone pointed out to those gathered that Gov. Cuomo, himself, attended Catholic elementary and high schools, and has spoken about the benefits he has received, but so far has reneged on his promise to help families who chose private school education.
"To say that we were disappointed would be a major understatement. It seems as if the governor is kicking Catholic school children to the curb. He is treating families in Catholic schools and families who want to be in Catholic schools as second-class citizens," the bishop said.
Three hundred people held signs saying, "Gov. Cuomo our families need help too" and "Remember us?"
Also speaking at the pre-lunchtime rally was Sister Gail Glenn, SSJ, principal of Catholic Academy of West Buffalo. She was greeted with a warm, "Good Morning, Sister Gail" from her students.
She spoke on behalf of all religious and independent schools that have been on the "short end of the stick in New York state for too long."
"We need to get together and demand our governor and our legislators listen to us," she said. "We know that in the current budget public schools and charter schools received very generous assistance. We're talking lots of money. What did we get? Nothing. Do we perform mandated services? Yes. ... So, we are in the process of making our case for what's fair in New York state."
The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Buffalo have a 98 percent graduation rate, with 95 percent of graduates going on to college.
"Isn't that something to be proud of and something you can look forward to. But you can only look forward to it if our schools remain alive and well and stable for the future," Sister Gail said. "That cannot happen without some assistance from your parents. Education dollars are scarce, and we need all the help we can get to remain live, vibrant, wonderful schools for the future."
The Education Investment Tax Credit will increase funds in two areas critical to the state's educational future - donations to public schools, school districts and teacher-driven projects; and scholarships to help low- and middle-income students attend religious and other tuition-based schools. The total increase on donations from this bill would grow to $300 million per year, divided evenly between public school needs and scholarships for students to attend parochial or other private schools.
It would accomplish this by creating a new tax credit for those who make a charitable donation for educational purposes.
New York State already provides $4 billion in state tax credits for many other purposes - including film and TV production, job creation, economic development and domestic beer brewing - but no tax credits for contributions to elementary and secondary education.
Under the bill, low-income and middle-class students would benefit directly from up to $150 million in annual charitable contributions to nonprofit scholarship organizations providing tuition assistance. The new donations for scholarships would make private and parochial education a reality for families seeking new quality educational opportunities and assist those already enrolled who are struggling to afford tuition at schools that best meet their needs.
Additionally, donations to public schools and public school districts would be increased by the same amount - thus making it easier for public schools to enhance their programs without additional reliance on property taxpayers or state aid. The bill would also give public school teachers a first-ever New York state income tax credit when they spend their own money on classroom supplies, up to $100.
No government funds would flow to private, Catholic elementary or other faith-based schools.
The state Senate included the measure in its budget bill this year. The Assembly version is co-sponsored by two-thirds of the members and a majority of Democrats and Republicans, including leaders of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.
The bishop and Sister Gail encouraged parents to contact local representatives and assemblymen to push for the Education Investment Tax Credit.
"Tell them you want them to step up - as so many have already - and to say they won't leave Albany this year without it," Bishop Malone said.
Gov. Cuomo can be contacted at (518) 474-8390 or www.bit.ly/ContactGovCuomo.