Governor Cuomo And The Extra 15%

Governor Cuomo And The Extra 15%

When it comes down to fights about public schools and school choice, questions surrounding costs are like noodles in soup: they always rise to the top. But in an effort to compete for grants like Race to the Top funding, we forget alternative methods of paying for, and incentivizing choice, in our state run schools. In the current legislative session, New York is at the forefront of providing the largest alternative funding method in providing kids a better education: income-tax scholarship credits. 

There’s no reason why this shouldn’t work. The GOP-led Senate in New York passed a bill with bipartisan support, giving a tax credit to individuals or companies who donate money to students in order to provide them a choice for their educational opportunities. The bill provides a maximum tax credit capped at $1 million, with of 90% of qualified contributions going towards the scholarship. The total amount of the program is capped further at $150 million for 2016, $225 million for 2017 and $300 million for 2018 and beyond. Governor Cuomo’s counter proposal wants less money to go directly from donor to student, and only allows 75% of the contribution to go towards education, the remainder going back to the state. 

For some perspective, the New York Department of Education’s entire operating budget is $20.6 billion, meaning that the total amount that private citizens are able to voluntarily contribute to pay for education will only cover 1.5% of the operating educational budget in New York. Most financing for public schools comes from property taxes, but only slightly less than 50% of funding came from the traditional financing mechanism. By relying on a structure that creates disincentives, i.e. property taxes and limitations on private involvement, we limit our ability to come up with a reliable mechanism for consistently funding education through public means. Given that the total amount of property taxes collected in 2009 was above $45 million, the money is there, the incentives and concern for the children are not. 

Such mechanisms will only continue to disappoint, which is exactly why Cuomo should back the bipartisan proposal that originally passed in the NY State Senate. This would ensure that more money goes towards a family’s choice in education, instead of location-based financing based on federally mandated standards. Offering the scholarship tax credit, with 90% of the money going towards the student, is not a panacea to improving New York’s schools. What it will do is shift arguments about school choice from devolving into funding teacher’s pensions and turn them into funding children as individuals with their own sets of needs. It would be an even bigger show of courage to declare all 100% of the donation following the student, but one can only dream. 

The New York Department of Education’s mission statement says that: “Our mission is to raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all the people in New York.” Based on the preferred models of funding and delivering education, this mission is impossible. The knowledge, skill and opportunity of each child is not the same, and therefore solutions for achieving the mission cannot be the same. What supporting school choice through alternative financing does is allow Americans to make education decisions that are best for their families. It also makes all parties accountable for the success of the child. 

Governor Cuomo should support the original income tax credit proposal with 90% of the donor’s amount going to the child. Sticking with the status quo is guaranteed to perpetuate institutional failure. 

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