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NY Tax Credits for Donating to Religious Schools Opposed

Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced the bill last year in Buffalo. It would allow people to claim tax credits for donations to private and religious schools. (GovernorAndrewCuomo/Flickr)
Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced the bill last year in Buffalo. It would allow people to claim tax credits for donations to private and religious schools. (GovernorAndrewCuomo/Flickr)
March 3, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y. - Civil liberties advocates want lawmakers in Albany to kill a bill they say violates the separation of church and state. What's being called the "Parental Choice in Education Act" was introduced as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget.

It would allow wealthy donors to claim tax credits of up to $1 million for donations to private primary and secondary schools, including religious schools.

Robert Perry, legislative director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, says that's a problem.

"The state constitution prohibits the state from using public money to provide direct or indirect aid to schools that provide religious instruction," Perry says.

The governor's office says the bill also would provide up to $150 million of tax credits to low-income families who send their children to non-public schools, including parochial schools.

But according to Perry, the governors proposal would allocate half of that $150 million to families earning up to $300,000 a year. He adds the process for claiming the credit is so complex that it would effectively be limited to corporations and the wealthy.

"These are people who have the money to hire lawyers and finance consultants, and to take advantage of this significant windfall that's offered through the legislation," says Perry.

A broad coalition of government watchdog groups, religious associations and education advocates were in Albany on Wednesday, calling for the bill to be blocked.

It has already passed in the state Senate. But a similar bill failed to pass in the Assembly last year and Perry believes opposition has grown since then.

"There's a sense now that emerged through this debate last year that folks who stand for public education and equitable education funding will oppose this bill vigorously," he says.

Opponents say passage of the bill would be another step toward privatizing public education.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY