Efforts to reduce the heavy economic burden on Jewish families who send their children to religious day schools can receive a belated but much-needed boost from New York State next week, but opposition from some labor unions may stand in the way.
The State Legislature, which adjourns for the year on June 17, is considering the Parental Choice in Education Act, which includes a new $150 million education tax credit program that could mean millions of dollars in annual savings for families whose children are enrolled in day schools — where tuition often exceeds $20,000 and even $30,000 per child.
The legislation would offer tax credits of up to 75 percent for individuals or businesses that donate to scholarship organizations for private school students, and $500 tuition tax credits for private school students from families with incomes under $60,000.
For many Jewish families, who increasingly find day school tuitions prohibitive, the legislation offers a measure of financial relief; a tax credit serves as an equivalent of cash.
Recognizing the value of day schools in ensuring Jewish continuity, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Education Project have partnered with organizations in the Orthodox community in calling on state legislators to pass the bill. (Orthodox students constitute the overwhelming majority of New York City’s day school and yeshiva students.) Both Agudath Israel of America and the Orthodox Union have lobbied for the legislation, joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has gone on the stump in Brooklyn churches and Midwood’s Yeshiva Shaare Torah.
While several African-American and Hispanic organizations, and more than 30 local and state unions support the bill, the legislation is vigorously opposed by many teachers unions, including New York State United Teachers, which characterize the tax credits as nearly synonymous with vouchers and inimical to the interests of the public school system.
In addition, opponents of such government-sponsored tax credits cite concern for church-state issues.
However, supporters of the legislation point out that the tax credits would not deprive public schools of funding; tax credits are not an endorsement of any particular religion; and the presence of thousands of children in parochial schools of various faiths reduces the economic demands on the public school system.
Tuition at Catholic parochial schools tends to be far less than at Jewish schools. The major beneficiaries of the legislation will be Jewish families that consider their children’s religious education a bedrock of Jewish continuity, but find it increasingly difficult to pay for what they consider essential.
The bill would not only help thousands of families, of various faiths, but would be a major savings for New York. Education tax credits have passed in 14 other states; now is the time to ensure New York is added to that list.