June 20, 2015

Just Say No to Cuomo's Education Plan

Have you seen the commercials urging support for Governor Cuomo's new education plan? You know, the plan to give people tax credits for sending their kids to parochial, private, charter or 'some other' pubic school?

The commercials tout the $500 tax credit for parents, and the $200 tax break for teachers who purchase their own school supplies, and a tax credit for people who donate money to a school, even a public school, to support programs that end up on the chopping block because schools can't afford to pay for them any more. Lt Governor Kathy Hochul explained it this way in an op-ed piece published recently:
The truth is that all schools - pubic, charter, parochial, private - deserve our support. That's why the governor has proposed the Parental Choice in Education Act, to ensure that every student and their family are supported in some way by the state, no matter where they go to school.
This Act will offer tax credits to individuals who donate to programs like after-school programs at public schools, often cut first; to the selfless public school teachers who go above and beyond in purchasing supplies for their classrooms out of their own pockets; and to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools so they can get the best education possible.
And to hep ensure that no child is condemned to a failing school, it will provide scholarships to low- and middle-income students who attend nonpublic schools or public schools that are outside of the district in which their family lives.  
That tax credit for people who donate to schools? Well, that's set as 75% of the total donated, with a cap of $1,000,000. And it applies to corporations as well as people, of course. You know, law firms, real estate brokers, and development companies, frequently set up as limited liability companies, or LLCs. (You may recall, of course, that LLCs and other corporations are huge donors to the Sonofa Gov's campaign, and the 'LLC loophole' is one of the big issues that won't get touched under any campaign finance reform package as long as the people in office accept money from them.)

Once again, we have the Governor and his minions working hard to develop a set of gimmicks and special benefits, which then get slickly packaged and 'messaged' in an almost comically ironic way. For example, those "selfless teachers" purchasing supplies with their own money. Aren't they the same teachers this the administration has vilified for the past year or more, and blamed for the failures of the schools in which they teach?  Nice way to try and win back the unions, Gov. Or are we to believe that only those teachers who you consider 'effective' would be seeking this credit?

Similarly, lamenting cuts in school programs while championing a property tax cap that limits how much money schools get to fund these programs? And, ignoring court orders dating back a decade or more, the state refuses to fund public schools appropriately (particularly urban ones) so that students can receive a sound basic education?

This is what the New York State Constitution has to say about the government's role in education:
Article XI. Education
Section 1. The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools wherein all children of this state may be educated. 
 Section 3.  Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall us its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for the examination or inspection of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning.
(Section 2 established the SUNY system, therefore not included above).

I freely admit to occasional bouts of over-simplification or over-complication; perhaps one of those is happening here. But if the Constitution says that the government must maintain and support free common schools, which means public schools, I'm confused as to why Governor Cuomo is proposing using tax money to support private and religious schools?

And if the Constitution states that no jurisdiction can use any public money directly or indirectly, for any aid or maintenance of a religious school, other than transporting students to and from, how does Governor Cuomo justify doing exactly that, through his scholarships for kids to leave public school and attend private school?

There are lots of issues with education in New York, particularly in urban and rural schools, that need to be addressed, including what gets taught, how to rate teacher (and administrator) effectiveness, how we fund education, and a whole host of other factors.

Paying people to leave the public school system, or funding education via some sort of school-by-school ice bucket challenge, are not viable ways to address these issues.