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Westchester Hosts Invest In Education Rally

WAMC/Allison Dunne

State legislators, private school administrators and others Tuesday addressed a crowd of some 5,000 elementary through high school students at a rally in Westchester County. The goal was to drum up support for state legislation to provide tax credits for investments in education.

That’s Democratic State Senator Ruth Hassell–Thompson, whose district includes Mount Vernon in Westchester. She is a co-sponsor of the bill that passed the Senate. An Assembly version with more than 100 sponsors awaits legislators when they return to Albany for the legislative session that begins in January. Students from more than 60 schools in Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties attended the multi-faith rally. Leader of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein addressed the crowd, which also included students from his area - the Bronx.

He says the Education Investment Tax Credit bill is among his top priorities.

Credit Phil Kamrass

The Education Investment Tax Credit bill would allow a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for donations to public schools, school districts, and teacher-driven projects. The bill would also provide scholarships to help low- and middle-income students attend religious and other tuition-based schools. State Senator David Carlucci is an Independent Democrat from Rockland County.

Helene Schonbrun is a White Plains resident who has put two of her kids through Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, a private Jewish school. Her third child is in fifth grade there at a cost just shy of $20,000. She says the financial strain is great, especially for middle-class families.

She says the cost of private school affects decisions about family planning.

For some of his district’s public schools, Carlucci sees the bill as providing assistance without raising property taxes.

Supporters say the investment would help fund arts, music, and sports programs, and reimburse teachers up to $100 for money spent on classroom supplies. Of the proposed up to $300 million in tax credits per year, at least one-half would be set aside to increase donations to public schools and their teachers.

Credit WAMC/Allison Dunne

The Invest in Education rally was co-sponsored by Catholic, Jewish, and Lutheran groups, including The Jewish Education Project, Lutheran Schools Association, and the Archdiocese of New York. Cardinal Timothy Dolan appeared on a big screen with a videotaped message.

Supporters of the bill count among their critics the state teachers union, which they say has traditionally opposed helping children attend parochial schools through charitably-funded scholarships using a state tax credit.

Other state legislators who spoke at the rally included Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Democratic Assemblymembers Gary Pretlow and Steve Otis. The Westchester rally followed one held in April in Buffalo.

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