Last week when I learned that New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has been going around that supposedly progressive state in the Northeast promoting a state Parental Choice in Education Act—a kind of school vouchers, I wondered if maybe we’ve really lost the battle against the privatization of public education, one of our society’s great achievements. Here is this blog’s post last week on Governor Cuomo’s new proposal for tuition tax credits in New York state.
Vouchers and tuition tax credits both award public dollars as scholarships to students to pay tuition at private and parochial schools. Vouchers give away tax dollars directly as scholarships. Tuition tax credits give big tax breaks to those who contribute to funds for creating the scholarships. The state education budget—on which public school districts depend—ends up much smaller in both instances.
Here is the Albany Times Union editorial board’s commentary on Governor Cuomo’s proposed tuition tax credits: “A governor who perennially complains about schools’ insatiable appetite for money has suddenly found millions of dollars to burn through for his Parental Choice in Education Act. It’s a public-private partnership of the worst sort—the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits. Perhaps Mr. Cuomo sees this as another way to break what he calls the ‘public education monopoly’—as if public schools were not something in which we all have a stake. But Mr. Cuomo seems to have conflated public education with his animosity for teachers’ unions.”
How does the proposal work? Private donors could “take a tax credit of 75 percent of their donations to nonprofit education foundations, up to $1 million. Senate and Assembly versions of the bill would allow up to 90 percent. That’s money shaved off a person’s or a corporation’s tax bill—and they could roll it from year to year if the credit exceeded their tax liability.”
Vouchers have always been popular on the far right. When I read about Cuomo’s new proposal, I wondered if they are trending up across the states. But here is what I discovered. Fourteen states plus the District of Columbia have programs they identify as vouchers: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Fifteen states have enacted tuition tax credits: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Virginia. Sixteen of these states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin—are one-party states with Republican legislatures and Republican governors. Pennsylvania, an industrial state in the Northeast, was a Republican one-party state until former Governor Tom Corbett was voted out of office last November in large part due policies that have punished the public schools in cities like Philadelphia, Reading, and Allentown. Clearly a number of states have undertaken such school privatization plans, but expansion of vouchers has not taken off.
New York’s Alliance for Quality Education reports that earlier this week three dozen organizations banded together in New York to “decry the tax break as one that siphons taxpayer money from public schools and funnels it into the pockets of millionaires and billionaires.” The organizations that have joined in coalition represent the 99 Percent—constituents whose members depend on strong public schools for their children and the strength of their communities. It is heartening to see such a broad based coalition— including civic, religious, education, and labor organizations—gathering to defend public education: A. Philip Randolph Institute, AFSCME, Advocates for Children of New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Balcony, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Citizen Action of New York, Citizen Budget Commission, CSEA, DC 37-AFSCME, Interfaith Impact of New York State, La Fuente, League of Women Voters of New York State, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road New York, NAACP-New York State Chapter, New York City Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, New York Civil Liberties Union, New York State AFL-CIO, New York State Association of School Business Officials, New York State Federation of School Administrators, New York State Parent Teacher Association, New York State School Boards Association, New York State United Teachers, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Public Employees Federation, Reform Jewish Voice of New York State, Rochester-Finger Lakes Pride @ Work , Rural Schools Association of New York State, School Administrators Association of New York State, Strong Economy for All, The Black Institute, The Council of School Superintendents, United Federation of Teachers, and Working Families Party.
The Albany Times Union editorial board charges Cuomo with refusing fully to fund the Campaign for Fiscal Equity remedy the state agreed to back in 2006: “What’s perhaps most troubling here is how Mr. Cuomo has railed about the need to put public education on a crash diet, even as advocates accuse him of underfunding needy schools in cities and less affluent rural areas. Now, suddenly, a state that supposedly could not afford to keep throwing money at public schools has $50 million to $150 million a year for private and parochial schools?”
David Little, Executive Director of the Rural Schools Association of New York State, is quoted in the Alliance for Quality Education’s press release announcing the anti-tax credit coalition: “For New York State to consider diverting available funds away from public education while it has a law that unconstitutionally withholds funds from school districts is unconscionable. If the state cannot afford its public educational system, it certainly can’t afford a second one.”