FFRF asks NY legislators to oppose religious school tax schemes

In response to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Parental Choice in Education Act” and similar bills proposed by the New York Assembly and Senate, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent letters to every member of the New York Assembly urging them to take a strong stand against private tax credit bills that subsidize religiously-segregated schools.

Governor Cuomo’s bill would grant up to $50 million in state tax credits for donations made to organizations providing tuition scholarships to private school students. It would also provide a tax credit of $500 per student for taxpayers with incomes less than $60,000 for private school tuition, up to a total of $70 million. The Assembly and Senate versions would similarly grant up to $75 million in tax credits, rising to $112.5 million in 2017 and $150 million in 2018.

FFRF’s letter to assembly members outlined its objections to publicly subsidizing private religious schools. FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott advised that the bills “would divert tax revenue away from the state treasury to unaccountable private and parochial institutions. Presumably, all other taxpayers would have to make up for the corresponding decreases in tax revenues that fund numerous state programs, including public education.”

Governor Cuomo campaigned in support of education tax credits recently with religious leaders, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Elliott wrote, “Parochial school administrators undoubtedly view the education tax credit program as a ‘Hail Mary’ that they hope will stabilize declining school enrollment.”

Similar programs have been used in other states as a way to force taxpayers to pay for private religious education. Meanwhile, legislators are able to claim that they are not publicly funding private schools because the aid comes in the form of a tax credit, instead of directly from the state’s coffers. Publicly-subsidized private school programs like this in other states have been rife with abuse and fraud. These programs fail to help struggling students and instead benefit parochial schools and families who were already paying tuition at religious institutions.

Taxpayers support public schools because they want to live in a state with an educated citizenry but “New York taxpayers should not be forced to pick up the slack for private religious schools through special tax credits,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

The Constitution of the State of New York under Article XI prohibits the use of public property or money in aid of denominational schools. FFRF urges assembly members to “take a strong stand” against private tax credit bills and to safeguard public education.

FFRF is a national state/church watchdog with more than 22,500 members, including more than 1,200 in New York. FFRF is based in Madison, Wis., where it has been active in fighting Wis. Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed school voucher program.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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