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Tax Break Bill Proposes Letting NYers Donate to Education Organization Instead

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There's a lot of support in Albany to establish a new type of tax break that could save some taxpayers a bundle and pour hundreds of millions of dollars into education, but you probably haven't heard about it at all. In part one of her report, NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ explains why.

A bill moving through Albany would let some New Yorkers get out of paying 75 percent of their state taxes and donate the money to a school or education organization instead. The law would be a huge boon to private schools, especially struggling religious schools. It would also cost the state about $300 million a year.

Most state lawmakers support the legislation. The state Senate already passed its version twice, and two-thirds of Assembly members have signed on, according to the bill's promoters.

However, while tax breaks are popular with voters, there are reasons supporters may not be advertising this plan.

This week, the CUNY Institute for Education Policy held a discussion moderated by former State Education Commissioner David Steiner entitled "Is Albany’s Education Tax Credit Bill Good for New York." Steiner asked the president of the group advocating for the plan to explain how it doesn’t violate separations between church and state.

"The state is making a decision that monies it would have spent on behalf of the public now can go to private schools, religious schools, that are under no limit as to what they can instruct or what standards their students can meet," Steiner said. "That strikes some of us as a bizarre kind of negation of the public trust."

The legislation reserves half the tax credits for donations to public schools. The other $150 million would be for private school scholarships.

Supporters say it will give more parents more choices by expanding the scholarship opportunities to private schools. Individual or corporate taxpayers could write off up to $7.5 million a year.

"If you could tinker with the tax incentives and increase the incentive to unlock a lot of that philanthropy and the tremendous wealth that we have in New York State rather than going to the taxpayers for a tax increase," said Thomas Carroll of the Coalition for Opportunity in Education.

Actually, a tax increase wouldn't benefit religious schools at all. That's because the state constitution prohibits direct or indirect government aid to educational institutions with religious affiliations. Education tax credits are a way around that. They're also a way to avoid the politically charged term "school vouchers."

There are powerful supporters behind the legislation, and they're directing hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers who sign on. That will be discussed in part two of NY1's report.

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