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Tax credits for parochial schools are unconstitutional

Monday, April 28, 2014
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Tax credits for parochial schools are unconstitutional

“Use of public property or money in aid of denominational schools prohibited; transportation of children authorized. Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof shall use 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 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.”

The above language is contained in the New York State Constitution: Article XI, Section Three. Note the phrase “directly or indirectly” and the word “credit.” The attempt by the Catholic church and others to obtain tax credits for donations to their schools is most certainly indirect, and should be considered unconstitutional by the courts.

Others have claimed that it’s “cheaper” to educate children in parochial schools (April 1 letter) and that money is “saved.” The letter writer is apparently ignorant of the fact that the public school budget, the same one we vote on every year, must contain funds for parochial and private school students’ transportation, textbooks and other sundry items for these students. This is the law, and these costs are not borne by parochial schools.

Also, public schools must purchase buses which cost nearly $100,000 each. The Niskayuna School District is replacing several buses at a cost of nearly $900,000. Some of that will be offset by state aid, but state aid is still our tax dollars. A bond issue will no doubt be presented to voters for these bus purchases. We must purchase fuel for these buses, pay the bus drivers and pay for insurance. Parochial schools are not responsible for any of these costs. What savings?

Do the math: the more students in private, parochial and charter schools, the less money that is available for the students in public schools, and the public school budget, our tax dollars, foots the bill. According to information supplied by the Niskayuna School District, in our district alone, 136 students are bused to 19, yes, 19 separate religious schools. Those figures do not include private non-religious schools or special education students. If non-religious schools were included, the figures would no doubt double.

Private and parochial schools can discriminate as to which students will or will not attend their schools, and they can expel any one of these students for whatever reason (Diane Barney’s April 8). Not so in public schools.

The Roman Catholic hierarchy whines and moans about how badly money is needed for their schools, yet millions of dollars were spent just a few years ago refurbishing the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. It’s quite grand, according to pictures. Just in case you didn’t know, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the wealthiest entities on the planet.

Even so, Catholic bishops have, for decades, made no secret of their desire to have taxpayers fund their schools. Tax credits are just the latest ploy in their bag of tricks. Taxpayers should not fund the religious education for any church, sect, synagogue or mosque. Religious freedom in our country allows these entities to establish their schools, but asking taxpayers to fund them runs afoul of everyone’s religious freedom.

I urge the New York state Assembly to vote against these tax credits. The privatization of education is clearly an affront to those of us who champion public schools, and tax credits, in my opinion, are unconstitutional.

Cynthia Swanson

Niskayuna

 

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