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home : bishop : columns

6/11/2015 9:00:00 AM
Numbers don't lie

The heat has been rising in Albany the last couple of weeks, and it's not just because the calendar has turned to June. The issue of parental choice in education has turned up the temperature in and around the State Capitol as the legislative session winds to a close.

Freedom of choice in education is a constitutionally-protected right, affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) case. But, as we know, too often parents don't have any choice, simply because they don't have the financial means to exercise their right -- and powerful interests want to see to it that it stays that way.

I have spoken out a lot lately -- in newspaper op-eds, in television and radio interviews, and one-on-one with our local elected officials -- about the benefits to children and families when they can attend our fine Catholic schools.

But even with the undeniable benefits to children, parental choice is controversial, primarily because the state's public school teachers unions, which wield enormous political clout, are opposed to the concept of choice -- at least when it comes to education.

Lately, we have seen the state's most prominent public school teachers' union ramp up its advocacy against Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Parental Choice in Education Act, which would provide tax credits to tuition-paying parents earning $60,000 a year or less, and would also create an incentive for individuals and corporations to donate money to scholarship funds and to public schools.

Opponents argue that the bill would benefit donors or families who attend "elite" schools. No, the bill would benefit everyone, because the entire community benefits from a diverse educational system that includes strong public schools, as well as religious and independent schools.

Numbers don't lie, and the numbers tell us that parents who pay school taxes while sending their children to a religious or independent school save taxpayers $9 billion every year. Sadly, even though there is no shortage of families who would like to come to our schools, rising tuitions caused by rising costs have meant that fewer and fewer are able to make the ends meet.

This sad fact impacts every New Yorker in his or her pocketbook. In the last 20 years in New York State, more than 350 Catholic, Christian, Lutheran, historically black, independent and other private schools have been forced to close their doors due to declining enrollment.

During this time, the state's school-age population has remained relatively constant, yet 100,000 more children are now enrolled in public schools than they were in the mid-1990s, at a tremendous cost to taxpayers. The influx of these children who would otherwise be in our schools into the public/charter system costs taxpayers $2 billion per year.

If we want to localize that more, over the last 15 years, 1,000 children have migrated from religious and independent schools to traditional public and charter schools in the city school district of Albany, costing taxpayers $18 million per year.

From a purely fiscal standpoint, education tax credits make sense. They do not siphon any money from the public school system, and by keeping our schools open, we continue saving taxpayers billions of dollars per year -- money that the government could invest into additional funding for public education.

In fact, data from the National Center for Educational Statistics indicates that public school per-pupil investment has continued to rise in most states that have instituted choice.

Don't even get me started on the benefits to the entire society of producing the caliber of graduates that we do. Why do you think the business community has been so supportive of the Albany Diocese's Beacon of Hope scholarship fund and similar scholarship organizations around the state? We're producing the leaders of tomorrow.

I always say, people are entitled to their own opinions -- but not their own facts. And the facts tell us that Catholic and other non-public schools offer tremendous benefit to the entire community while saving taxpayers billions of dollars a year. Helping them keep their doors open should be a no-brainer.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)

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