By William J. Mariani
The Buffalo News editorialized on May 8 that “state taxpayers should not directly subsidize religious schools.” I agree 1,000 percent. The main reason I support the Education Investment Tax Credit bill is because it helps all children and teachers, and does so without directly subsidizing religious schools.
In fact, the only type of school the tax credit would directly help would be public schools – by giving people and businesses who donate to them a dollar-for-dollar reduction on their state taxes.
As a member of the Buffalo School District’s Foundation Board, I like that. It gives us a major selling point as we approach potential donors to our city schools. Right now, donors receive only a tax deduction – which means they can reduce their state tax burden by some fraction of a dollar. By enhancing this to a tax credit (up to a percentage of tax liability), we can generate much higher charitable funding for our public schools for a wide variety of purposes.
This bill also would provide tax credits for donations to nonprofit organizations that support our public schools, which would include the Say Yes program operating right here in Buffalo.
To directly benefit teachers, this bill would, for the first time, give them a dollar-for-dollar credit on their state taxes when they spend their own money for their classrooms.
Another beneficiary would be families wanting to send their children to parochial or private schools. Here’s how it would work: First, an individual or business contributes to a non-profit scholarship fund, such as the BISON Fund.
That nonprofit fund then provides a scholarship from its private donations to a student to attend a private or religious school, or a non-resident public school.
Importantly, the tax credit is not allowed if a donor gives money directly to a private or religious school. So the legislation specifically excludes direct subsidies to these schools, and is consistent with the doctrine of church-state separation. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld this kind of program as constitutional.
If our bill created any kind of state voucher program – back door or otherwise – then it wouldn’t have the strong, bipartisan support of virtually every Buffalo area state legislator, including Assembly members Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Robin Schimminger and Sens. Timothy Kennedy and George Maziarz.
The state gives tax credits as incentives to many purposes – businesses that relocate; to attract high-profile TV and movie studios to shoot in New York; and even to NBC so it can bring “The Tonight Show” back to New York City. I like adding teachers and schoolchildren to that list.
William J. Mariani, Ed.D., is the vice president of administration and external relations at D’Youville College, and past president of Erie Community College.