The closure of 10 Catholic elementary schools in Erie County, affecting 1,154 students and 195 teachers and staff, has naturally led to the discussion of alternatives, including the notion that an education tax credit is the answer. It isn’t.
While Bishop Richard J. Malone has talked about the “dollar for dollar” investment under the Education Investment Tax Credit, it would not benefit everyone on an equal basis. It would, in fact, benefit many of those who need the benefit the least.
The State Senate has twice passed a tax credit proposal that 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.
The Assembly has a bill lined up that allows a credit cap of $250 million for 2014 and $300 million in 2015. The tax credit allows individuals and corporations to take a dollar off their tax bills for every dollar donated to a qualifying organization, up to a certain limit.
It is not difficult to imagine the bulk being directed by the wealthy elite and corporations for the benefit of a few exclusive schools, many of them in high-priced New York City.
The argument that the tax credits will increase the number of children able to afford to attend Catholic schools in Buffalo is debatable. The law is not aimed specifically at poor children. There is no means test for the recipients and the money is just as likely to go to a well-off suburban school as one in a poor neighborhood.
Still, the number of states interested in tax credit programs is growing, as was reflected here in Buffalo last year during the “Invest in Education Tax Credit Rally.” Elementary and high school students were bused to First Niagara Center from Catholic schools across Western New York for the rally.
Religious schools play a vital role in education in Western New York and offer an alternative to parents who wish to have their children educated according to their values. These parents are making a sacrifice to send their children to parochial schools, but they shouldn’t expect taxpayer support for their religious schools.
Rather than pushing for new state legislation, supporters of Catholic education should be using the avenues already open to them. Anyone so inclined can donate directly to the diocese or individual schools or to scholarship organizations like the Bison Fund, which helps low-income 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 promote that tried-and-true way of helping their bottom lines, rather than seeking help from state funds that may end up being directed elsewhere.