The New York State Legislature should resist the latest effort to provide a public subsidy for private schools, most of them religious.
Emotions on both sides of the issue run high. Take, for example, the 10,000 students, most from area Catholic schools, who participated in a rally last month in support of a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. Elementary and high school students were bused to First Niagara Center from Catholic schools across Western New York for the “Invest in Education Tax Credit Rally.”
The State Senate has passed a tax credit proposal. The bill would allow up to $150 million in tax credits to be awarded annually for donations to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to private schools, and $150 million in credits for donations to public school districts. A similar bill introduced in the Assembly in January is unlikely to be considered again until the 2014 state budget talks.
The nation’s long tradition of separation of church and state has stood in the way of such direct support of religious schools. Yet, the number of states interested in tax credit programs is growing. Some call them “back door vouchers” because tax credits yield the same benefits to the schools – just using a different mechanism.
Supporters say the tax credits will increase the number of children able to afford to attend Catholic schools. But the law is not aimed specifically at poor children. There is no means test, meaning the money is just as likely to go a fairly well-off suburban school as one in a poor neighborhood.
Religious schools are an important part of our educational equation. They offer an alternative for parents seeking schools that support their values. Parents who choose that route know they will be making financial sacrifices and should not seek to have taxpayers provide such direct subsidies for religious schools.
People, of course, are already free to donate directly to Catholic schools or to scholarship organizations like the BISON Scholarship Fund, which helps low-income elementary school students attend the private school of their choice. Those donations may already be tax-deductible as a charitable contribution, depending on the organization and the donor’s tax status.
Religious and other private schools should step up their own fundraising efforts rather than seeking a direct share of the state budget.