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Published on March 10, 2016, by in RJV.

Students in a classroom

Last month, I discussed a number of initiatives in Governor Cuomo’s State of the State and Executive Budget proposal that are in areas of particular interest to RJV, including Economic Justice, the Environment, Criminal Justice and Ethics. For the second part of our budget breakdown, I will be focusing on the Governor’s education proposals.

As supporters of a strong public education system in New York State, we note that the Governor hopes to increase education funding by $2.1 billion over the next two years. The Board of Regents and education advocates, on the other hand, believe much more is needed. The budget also contains plans to eliminate the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which has covered state budget shortfalls by cutting aid to school districts for the past six years, by 2018. Many legislators want this accomplished by the end of this year. Governor Cuomo also calls for establishing a $100 million fund for community schools, which are public schools that provide additional support services, such as health services, mentoring and summer programs. Some legislators and advocates see this as a good start, but are calling for $250 million in funding for community schools.

However, the Governor’s proposal also resurrects a concerning initiative he pushed last session known as the Parental Choice in Education Act. The centerpiece of this legislation would establish an Education Tax Credit for those who donate to private or religious schools. Donors could claim a 75% tax credit on up to $1 million of their donations if the proposal passes. The education tax credit was not included when legislative negotiations finished last session, but just a couple of weeks after the start of this session the Senate passed their bill, which calls for a 90% credit.

Enacting such a tax credit raises serious concerns for those who support strong public schools and maintaining a separation between church and state. The Education Tax Credit has been described as a “thinly veiled voucher program” that allows donors to use state funds to support their contributions to private or religious schools. This would leave public schools, many of which are already facing financial strain, with less funding as the state would be using millions of dollars to incentivize donations to non-public schools.

As Reform Jews, defending and strengthening public schools is deeply important to us. As a 2001 Union for Reform Judaism resolution on Public Education states: “Historically, the public schools have been the ladder that American Jews, and so many others, used to climb from poverty to affluence in American life. Today, Jews remain deeply devoted to the public school system; for many North American Jews, public education is the most hallowed of civic virtues.” Moreover, we strictly oppose tax credits to support private and religious schools both because of the negative impact on public schools and because such initiatives infringe upon the separation of church and state that has allowed Jews and many other religious groups to maintain their religious freedom. This is why RJV is working with a broad coalition of diverse organizations to oppose the Education Tax Credit.

As the Governor and legislative leaders negotiate a final budget before the April 1 deadline, we urge them to invest in public schools and not include harmful proposals such as the Education Tax Credit. You too can join in on the discussion, and seize the opportunity to advocate on issues of importance to our Movement this session! Save the date for RJV Advocacy Day, which will take place on May 9. Contact us if you need any additional information. We hope to see you there!

Feature Image courtesy of Massachusetts Education Secretary Jim Peyser, Flickr.