Hear our Voice

Sept 1-7. 2005
VOL 124 NO. 29
Hear our Voice
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
All can benefit from education tax credits

The history of the Syracuse Diocese includes the formation of a diocesan school board in 1914 under the guidance of Bishop John Grimes. Before that point, parishes were the primary custodians of their schools. Religious were available to teach the children and the tuition was, believe it or not, free. Today, the average cost of tuition at elementary schools within the diocese is $3,000. High school tuition now averages more than $4,000. The cost has changed but the principles behind Catholic education have not. Nine decades ago, Bishop John Grimes felt that Catholic schools were essential to the preservation of the church; today, Bishop James Moynihan feels the same way.

While monetary concerns can be decisive today, families can manage to send their children to Catholic schools with outside help via tuition assistance or, perhaps someday, with help in the form of a tax break. There is legislation proposed now in the State Legislature that might help ease the burden for parents who still want to educate their children in private schools. And, there is legislation that would allow a tax credit for individuals or corporations who wish to give financial support to schools and scholarship programs. No part of either piece of legislation specifically mentions Catholic schools — a fact that may actually help this legislation make it through the system. The tax credits can help all parents regardless of where they send their children to school.

Through a state-wide effort, bishops in New York hope that a grassroots initiative during the month of September will effect change. They have initiated a postcard campaign that could send as many as a million and a half postcards into the mailboxes of Gov. George Pataki and legislative leaders at the beginning of 2006. The campaign is designed to demonstrate public support for education tax credits at a time when education costs are soaring.

Education tax credits will benefit parents of children in public, independent or religious schools. State Sen. Martin Golden and Assemblyman Vito Lopez have introduced an education tax credit bill for personal expenses (S.1939-A.8203) and State Sen. Serphin Maltese and Assemblyman Dov Hikind have introduced an education investment tax credit bill (S.3101-A.6145). Personal expense tax credits apply to costs for instructional materials, tutoring, school tuition, educational software and computers, special education services, or when a teacher has paid for classroom supplies or continuing education courses out of his/her own pocket. Education investment tax credits apply to corporations or individuals making a donation to a school or an organization that supports education through scholarships or school programs.

Tax credits for education are already on the books in Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa and Pennsylvania. The Diocese of Brooklyn in the fall of 2004 launched an education tax credit postcard campaign with approximately 90,000 people signing the cards. With the state-wide campaign, it is hoped that the New York State Catholic Conference can realize the benefit of its Catholic Advocacy Network (CAN) which works to educate about and advocate for those issues in the public forum that are important to Catholics throughout the state.

“Success really depends upon the people who sign up,” said Bishop Moynihan. “Right now the bishops can say one thing, but the elected officials will say whatever it is that will get them the votes. The best we can do is get some kind of voice in the public forum, namely the voice of the people.” And that voice, he said, needs to be “visible and audible.”

Postcards will be distributed and collected throughout parishes and Catholic schools. The postcard campaign will allow a clear, loud voice to be heard by Gov. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, and it offers Catholics the opportunity to join CAN. Public policy issues that affect families, the elderly, the sick, the poor, those in prisons and workers, as well as children both born and unborn can be addressed through the network.

Meanwhile, these two particular pieces of legislation are considered positive by school administrators within the diocese. Chris Mominey, principal of Rome Catholic, believes the bills would not only help families but also address the way the schools raise funds. “Two things that the benefactors want to know are How does it [a donation] benefit the students directly? and How does it benefit me? With this legislation, we can answer that,” Mominey said. He feels that any legislation that can benefit teachers is also positive. “I never realized how much teachers do out of their own pockets until I became principal.”

Some may not understand how these bills differ from tax deduction legislation that is already in place. The difference between a tax credit and a tax deduction is that tax credits are typically more beneficial than deductions. A tax credit is a reduction of the amount of taxes owed and a tax deduction is a reduction of the income on which taxes are paid. James Cultrara, director for education at the New York State Catholic Conference, said the corporate tax credit legislation may have a better chance of passing. “We’ve heard from a number of legislators indicating their support. With the personal tax credit, we do hear from legislators who support the bill, but it also seems legislators are more concerned about that bill’s implications. The postcard campaign and the expanse of the network will have tremendous impact,” Cultrara said.

Barbara Messina is principal of Most Holy Rosary School on Syracuse’s west side. She said the fact that the state is willing to find ways to support education is a good indicator that government is responding to the needs of the people. “If the state is going to mandate that our teachers take classes to improve the quality of education, then they need also to mandate legislation that will support them in that endeavor,” Messina said. “These bills say, ‘If education is valuable and important then let’s do all we can to invest in education.’”

The postcards will be distributed in September across the Syracuse Diocese. Bishop Moynihan is hopeful that the people of the diocese will respond to the campaign by taking the time fill out the cards. “It’s worth it for the good that it can accomplish,” the bishop said.

For more information, contact the Catholic Schools Office at (315) 470-1450.

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