Despite a strong media campaign by New York bishops, the New York State Legislature ended its 2014 session in June without passing an education tax credit bill intended to help fund public school districts and parents sending their children to private schools.
"We were hoping by the end of the session, the Legislature would support the tax credit for education," Bishop Richard J. Malone said. "There are other states around the country that have something very much like this that is working fine."
The New York bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York City, met with state officials like Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Majority Co-Leader Dean Skelos in March to discuss the bill. Bishop Malone said Silver wasn't supportive of their agenda, but felt that with a majority of support in the Assembly and Cuomo's "strong affirmation," the tax credit bill would pass.
Once the bill wasn't part of the state's budget approval in April, the bishops took their case to the public with print and television advertising and student rallies, like the one Bishop Malone attended in downtown Buffalo in May. However, state leaders ended their legislative session June 20 and went home without taking up the measure.
"We are very disappointed, because this could have been a game changer for helping families send their children to Catholic and other non-public schools," Bishop Malone said. "We haven't given up. We're strategizing now to see how we can go forward."
State Catholic leaders feel they are the victims of broken promises by elected leaders, including Cuomo.
"We have consistently heard from Gov. Cuomo and a majority of legislators in both houses that they supported the bill, that it was a 'no brainer,' and that it was of critical importance to the families of our state," said Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference. "Dozens of labor unions and other organizations signed on in support, many of them appearing with Cardinal Dolan and the New York State Bishops at news conferences in New York City and Albany. But, in the end, the will to fight for passage, to stand up to the public school teachers' unions, was not there."
Cardinal Dolan wrote a frustrated editorial in Saturday's New York Post.
"I am frustrated because the governor and state legislators have bypassed multiple opportunities to help these families," he wrote. "This was a proposal where everyone would win, and this was a year, especially given the welcome focus on education throughout the state, when no one had to lose. Yet they stayed up all night in Albany talking about marijuana - but not a word about supporting our kids by finally passing the (education tax credit bill)."
Bishop Malone said the bill would have made a huge difference for families looking to send their children to Catholic schools.
"One of the saddest things I ever come across is a parent who would like to send their child to a private school, but they can't afford to do it," he said. "Or they can afford to send one child, but not another one. We still have the problems of the demographics in Western New York and it's another challenge for our schools, but certainly, the financial assistance would make a huge difference."
Kevin Keenan contributed to this report.