While Assembly member Rodneyse Bichotte holds steadfast against any compromise between her bill introduced in February and a bill that Gov. Cuomo proposed three weeks ago – both of which involve tax credits toward nonpublic schools – a group of Christian and Jewish leaders today suggested that a compromise is badly needed.
“There’s always room for compromise and I think it’s needed here,” said Rev. Al Cockfield, the pastor of God’s Battalion Of Prayer Church and the head of the 200-student Battalion Christian Academy, both at 661 Linden Blvd. in East Flatbush. “A compromise is an opportunity for everybody to win – the public schools, the private schools, we all need support. It’s about the children.”
Cockfield made his comments following Bichotte’s Annual Clergy Brunch held at The Bridge Project Multicultural Arts and Cultural Center, 1894 Flatbush Avenue.
At the brunch Bichotte outlined both bills.
Under Cuomo’s Parental Choice in Education Act proposal, there would be $70 million in tax credits for families making an income of $60,000 and less, and whose children attend non-public schools. In addition, the bill provides for $50 million in tax credits for donations from corporations and wealthy individuals to scholarship funds benefiting low and middle-income nonpublic school students.
Bichotte’s bill would give tax credits to all parents regardless of income with children in nonpublic schools and children in after school programs, but gives no credits to corporations and wealthy individuals that give money to nonpublic schools.
Brooklyn’s large orthodox Jewish community, which has a growing network of private yeshivas, along with the Catholic Diocese, other Christian denominations and Muslims with private Islamic schools all strongly support Cuomo’s measure.
The powerful United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the public school teacher’s union, is strongly against Cuomo’s proposal. Both sides have spent a large amount of money in ads, mailings and phone calls supporting their views.
Bichotte said her bill has taken a back seat in the assembly ever since Cuomo put out his proposal and that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is hesitant to bring Cuomo’s measure to the floor for a vote as the Democratic delegation is split on the issue.
When asked if she would be willing to compromise, Bichotte said no because she couldn’t tolerate wealthy entities getting tax breaks for nonpublic schools, and that the chances they would give to nonpublic schools in her district was slim.
Also, the priority should be on improving the public schools, she said, towing the UFT line in lockstep.
However, several clergy members at the brunch noted that despite state spending some $21,000 per child a year in public schools they remain in disarray and parents need options.
Among the compromises suggested include raising the income cap for parents to be elegible for a tax credit if their children attend nonpublic schools. Another suggestion was to ensure that at least part of the donations that wealthy entities give to the nonpublic school of their choice go to poorer nonpublic schools for them to be eligible for the tax credit.
“The focus should not be on what’s a good bill or a bad bill, but on the children and how best to help them,” said Cockfield, noting that the wealthy are already getting tax credits for owning jets so why not give them to the wealthy that are supporting schools.
“She (Bichotte) is new and means well, but I’m encouraging her to compromise. The UFT also needs to come to the table. It should be about the children,” he said.
While the Senate appears to back Cuomo’s bill, the assembly remains to be the battleground. If no bill is even brought to the floor for a vote before the legislative session ends June 17, all bills will have to be reintroduced in January.