Dolan: Catholic Conference will again push education tax credit
ALBANY — The New York State Catholic Conference will once again push for a tax credit that would provide incentives for educational donations, Cardinal Timothy Dolan told POLITICO New York on Wednesday.
“We would hope it would come up again and we’re going to make sure that it does because it’s an issue about which we are extraordinarily passionate,” Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, said after leading the state Senate in a prayer opening first day of this year’s session. The archdiocese's schools educate 90,000 students, he said.
The Cuomo-backed legislation failed to pass last session, with those opposed citing a complexity of reasons including the idea that giving resources to privately run schools undermines public schools and the legislation would unfairly favor the wealthy. There also was concern from opponents that private and parochial school donors could use the legislation as a way to leverage tax breaks for charter school supporters.
The bill specifically faced opposition from some members of the Democratic-led state Assembly, which is supported by public school teachers' unions.
But Dolan said he believes the attempt was the closest they have come to victory.
“Last year was one of the most successful years we had in [constructing] a coalition, getting bipartisan support, having the vigorous engagement of the governor, having our people rallied up and ready to go, and we came very close,” he said. “Was there a sense of disappointment that we didn’t make it? You bet there was, but for us that was not to say ‘it’s over,’ but to say ‘wait until next year, we’re going to try even harder.’”
Dolan said he’s still unsure why it failed, especially after hearing they had support from those in leadership positions including state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Cuomo. “For me it’s such a no-brainer,” Dolan said.
To inch closer to success this session, Dolan said supporters will try to garner even more assistance outside of the coalition of inter-religious leaders, business people and parents from last year. This includes invoking the help of the teachers’ unions, an interesting tactic given that they vehemently opposed the proposed legislation, and given their response to questions from POLITICO New York, still do.
“Education tax credits drain money from public schools to give huge tax credits to the very rich. It was a bad idea last year and it has not gotten any better with time,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, which represents New York City professionals, said in an emailed statement.
Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, the largest teachers’ union in the state, pointed to the dire financial situation of the state’s public schools.
“Our poorest districts are still suffering from devastating cuts imposed during the recession. They still have not replaced all the social workers, guidance counselors and teachers they were forced to lay off,” Korn said in an email. “The conversation we should be having is: ‘How can New York State properly fund its public schools, which serve all students?’ We would welcome a respectful conversation about that with Cardinal Dolan and others."
Dolan said he hoped the unions and the archdiocese could work together.
“For some strange reason, even though we reached out to them, the leadership of the teachers’ unions still seem to be resistant to any type of help to the schools even though we work closely with them on all types of education reform, and even though in our mind this is not an ‘us versus them’ scenario,” Dolan said. “This is about our kids, where they go is second to their getting a quality education wherever they happen to be.”
The Catholic Conference will continue to reach out to the unions, he said.
“We do hear some of our leaders who will point to [the teachers’ unions] and say ‘They are against this,’" Dolan said. “We want to try to get them to be open to this, and ... we want to make sure that our leaders listen to us as well as to them, so God willing there will be some progress.”