Give Our Families A Chance, by Maury Litwack and Jeff Leb

In Judaism, we are accustomed to counting down (or up) toward a deadline: the 49 days of the Omer leading to Shavuot and the Asseret Yemai Teshuvah leading to Yom Kippur, to name two. Right now, we’re counting down to another deadline that could have a significant impact for Jewish day school parents and all non-public school parents in New York: the end of the legislative session in Albany on June 17.

A historic Education Tax Credit bill is pending, and our legislators will decide this month whether to assist New York’s non-public school families with real financial support.

Anyone connected to Jewish education knows about the challenge of day school and yeshiva tuition. With tuition often in the tens of thousands per child, families with even just one child enrolled in Jewish day school struggle to make ends meet. And our families, many of whom have three, four, or more children, believe in the value of Jewish education and a Jewish school environment for all of their children.

Governor Cuomo’s proposed tax credit program-the Parental Choice in Education Act-will help New York families of all backgrounds give their children the best education they deserve. The governor’s bill has the potential to provide millions of dollars in tax credits for donations made to public schools and/or not-for-profit scholarship granting organizations. Tax credits for donations would reduce a taxpayer’s state tax liability, dollar-for-dollar, for up to 75 percent of what is owed in income or corporate franchise taxes.

Public schools can use this funding for educational improvements and extracurricular activities. Non-public schools can use this funding to award scholarships to their students. In addition to generating these scholarship funds, the bill will provide refundable tax credits directly to low-income families (who earn below $60,000) who send their children to non-public schools.

What does this bill mean for our community and our schools?

If passed, the bill will create millions of dollars in donations for scholarships, thus giving schools greater resources to aid their parents and offer scholarships to a wider pool of students. A private school with 250 children on scholarship may receive up to $2.5 million in aid to supplement its scholarship budget.

By relieving schools of a significant portion of the financial responsibility needed for scholarships, education tax credits can benefit the entire school community. And because the state incentivizes donations to the not-for-profit scholarship granting organizations by offering tax credits-as opposed to less valuable tax deductions-to donors, millions of new dollars will be brought into New York’s educational system. We’ve seen just this effect of similar scholarship tax credits in states like Pennsylvania and Florida where they already exist.

The Orthodox Union and UJA-Federation of New York have long supported and advocated for legislation that helps ease the burden on our tuition-paying families. Because the potential benefit to families through the Education Tax Credit bill is so significant, our two organizations united together and launched a joint 30-day campaign in mid-May to push legislators to pass the Education Tax Credit bill by June 17.

We are in Albany every day of session, meeting with legislators about the Education Tax Credit bill. We are bringing elected officials to day schools and yeshivas in their districts to meet parents, students and school leaders. And we are mobilizing the community to make their voices heard by urging their legislators to make education tax credits a reality this year. In just two weeks, parents sent more than 6,000 letters to Albany.

But there is much more to do. During our meetings in Albany, many legislators tell us that the opposition is in attack mode, sending direct mail to their members attacking legislators who support the Education Tax Credit.

Our elected representatives need to hear from you. They need to know their constituents want them to vote for education tax credits. Call or e-mail your assemblymember today and urge him or her to support this bill that can provide transformative funding for Jewish day school parents and all of New York’s non-public school community. Make sure your friends, family and colleagues contact their legislators as well.

With just days until the end of the legislative session, the time to take action is now.

Originally published in the Jewish Press.

About the Author: Maury Litwack is director of state political affairs for the Orthodox Union. Jeff Leb is managing director of government and external relations for the UJA-Federation of New York.