By Shimmy Blum
Needy parents in the New York yeshiva community have reason today to be hopeful that their tuition bills may be significantly reduced.
The New York State Senate today passed the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC). The same bill was introduced in the State Assembly. And, for the first time ever, Governor Andrew Cuomo included funding for EITC in his executive budget proposal.
Under the EITC program passed by the Senate and introduced in the Assembly, 90% of qualified donations to a nonpublic school scholarship fund or other qualified non-profit educational fund will be credited to the donor off his or her state tax liability. The proposal would allocate $150 million for this purpose in the first year, eventually rising to $300 million in the third year.
If passed into law, this will serve as a meaningful incentive for increased donations to funds that benefit low and middle income families who educate their children in nonpublic schools. This will help alleviate the crushing tuition burden faced by countless struggling families, and offer schools additional funds to provide students with a top quality education.
Agudath Israel of America welcomes these developments as much needed progress towards helping needy children enrolled in the nearly 400 Jewish schools across the state, in addition to students in other nonpublic schools. “There is no doubt that the high cost of tuition is at the top of the list of concerns of virtually every family in our community,” says Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Community Affairs. “Our battle to help them has been unrelenting and we are thankfully seeing the fruits of our labor, with Hashem’s help.”
In his executive budget proposal, Governor Cuomo included a $100 million allocation for EITC. “While we still have to study the details of the Governor’s proposal,” said Rabbi Lefkowitz, “we are deeply grateful that he has seen fit, for the very first time, to publicly promote EITC as a high budgetary priority”.
Over the past years, Agudath Israel has been one of the advocacy groups at the forefront of the battle to implement EITC over the objections of various powerful special interests.
The effort began over a decade ago when Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Senator Serph Maltese introduced tax credit legislation. Agudath Israel was a firm supporter of this bill, even before the legislation was given serious chance of passage.
Last year, the EITC was presented as Agudath Israel’s top legislative priority at the organization’s Annual Mission to Albany, and in a series of high level discussions with the governor’s office. Then, during the campaign season, Governor Cuomo told a gathering of Agudath Israel leaders that he considered the EITC a matter of “simple justice.”
Last week, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president, sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to include EITC in the FY2015-2016 budget – which the governor has now done.
The State Senate has been a leader for the EITC cause, having passed such legislation in each of the past several years. Rabbi Lefkowitz singled out Senators Dean Skelos, Jeff Klein, Simcha Felder, and Martin Golden for their unstinting leadership on the issue.
Support for EITC has grown within the Assembly as well,where the legislation now has enough sponsors to ensure passage of the bill on the Assembly Floor.
Rabbi Lefkowitz pointed to Assemblymembers Michael Cusick, Marcos Crespo, Steven Cymbrowitz, Phil Goldfeder, Dov Hikind, Michael Simanowitz, and Helene Weinstein as major contributors to the effort.