Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Battle Over The Education Investment Tax Credit

The state budget season this year was all about education, pitting public and private school proponents against each other over the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC).

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The warring factions on one side include union officials such as the New York State United Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers along with liberal state lawmakers. Last month their activities included rallies by the thousands on the Capitol’s famed million-dollar staircase and marbled Well of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

“The tax credit, I’m not for it,” Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D – Ridgewood, Queens), Assembly Education Committee chairwoman, told school officials. “I don’t think it’s a wise policy. I’m against it. We do spend $170 million on aid to nonpublic schools. We do things that are constitutionally appropriate for our nonpublic schools but I’m not in favor of that credit.”

In the other corner there are conservative religious groups such as the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel of America, Catholic Charities and the Catholic Conference. In stark contrast to the noisy union chants, these organizations chose a different approach, quietly meeting with elected legislative leaders and staffers in small groups. What they found out was the EITC was taken off the budget negotiating table by Governor Cuomo. Now the talk is all about reviving the EITC in the post-budget rush to adjourn in mid-June. The state Senate passed a version of the EITC in January.

Opponents often argue that money for the EITC takes precious dollars away from public education. That’s an argument rejected by Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flanagan (R – East Northport, Suffolk County).

“If we put money in health, we can’t put money in education,” Flanagan recalls hearing from the opponents. “If we put money in the environment, we are essentially taking money away from education. That’s sort of a fundamental debate.”

During an appearance on “The Jewish View,” a television program taped in Albany, Senator Martin Golden (R – Bay Ridge, Brooklyn) said this is a watershed issue. Some of the advocates, he recounted, “told lawmakers, We’re going to run against you. We’re going to put people up against you and they even named the people they’re going to put up. The faces on some of the legislators were [aghast]. They finally understand that it’s no longer a game and it’s quite serious. There is a nuclear option. People are waking up across the state and they are going to put people into office that reflect their views.”

Lobbying is not an exact science and sometimes when a group brings a few dozen people to a meeting someone goes “off message.” Such was the case when one advocate told a top level adviser to the Assembly speaker that there was a grassroots online effort, by people who are actively involved in support of the EITC and upset with the legislative outcome, to close the doors of yeshivas and enroll the students in public schools this September. The state might have to deal with the situation of finding desks and space for close to an additional half-million students that would be flooding the public school system in a few months, he added. This is not an official position of the OU and upset several people who attended the meeting.

Meanwhile the liberal unions are meeting with lawmakers who don’t support their position. When UFT lobbyists tried to discuss the EITC issue with Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D – Hillcrest, Queens), he found their opposition left a lot to be desired.

“How could the UFT be against a bill that would benefit every teacher in the state of New York by giving them a $100 tax credit for out of pocket expenses?” Simanowitz asked OU advocates gathered in a small meeting room near the Capitol. “They don’t know the bill. They called it a voucher bill. The Assembly is the problem here. There’s no shortage of money being invested in the public school system.”

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