Education Hearing

Today, I participated in a budget hearing in Albany. Here are my remarks regarding the 2011-2012 Education Budget:

TESTIMONY OF THE NEW YORK STATE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE REGARDING THE 2011-2012 EDUCATION BUDGET

Albany, New York
February 15, 2011

Good afternoon, Senator DeFrancisco, Senator Flanagan, Assemblyman Farrell, Assemblywoman Nolan and honorable members, my name is Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York.   Joining me today is Dr. Timothy McNiff, Superintendent of Schools for the archdiocese, and Jim Cultrara, Director for Education at the NYS Catholic Conference, which I am honored to serve as president.

I am grateful for this opportunity to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals related to elementary and secondary education.  It is my hope and prayer that my comments help you shape a state budget that is fair, just and prudent.  I am honored to address distinguished public officials such as yourselves, and deeply appreciate your high interest in education.  I am here on behalf of the approximately 200,000 students in the state of New York in our Catholic schools, (the largest non-governmental school system in our state), young people and their parents of every religion or none at all, of every ethnic and economic background.  I am speaking for them.

While my formal written testimony addresses numerous areas where our schools are in need of assistance, I will limit my oral remarks to just three of them.

First is the area of Mandated Services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) Reimbursement:

The Governor is proposing an 8 percent cut in Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) and CAP reimbursement funding.  This proposed cut is on top of the 6 percent shortfall from last year’s state budget which itself was on top of cuts in reimbursement from the previous two years.  Are you sensing a theme here?  This 8 percent cut, I might add, is greater than the 7.3 percent cut to governmental schools.

Keep in mind that the state is already delinquent on reimbursement to religious and independent schools for mandates carried out by our schools dating as far back as the 2002-03 school year.  We estimate the state’s obligation to our schools to be more than $260 million, and as a result of the state’s delinquency, our schools have been forced to raise tuition to fill the gap.  Tragically, others have had to close because our families cannot bear the burden.

The blame for this growing debt falls squarely on the State Education Department which has yet to officially calculate their obligation to our schools under the 37-year old Mandated Services statute.   Part of the reason for the delay is that, in order to address an error the department made several years ago, they changed the CAP reimbursement formula to cover less than the full costs incurred by schools, and the department continues to use that faulty and unjust formula.

We recognize that the current fiscal situation will make it difficult for the state to satisfy its legal obligation.  Nonetheless, it is imperative that you begin to do so.  Accordingly, we urge you to do the following:

-          First, direct the State Education Department to correct their error and revert to using the originally agreed-upon CAP formula;

-          Second, insist that the State Education Department immediately provide an official accounting of the total amount that would be needed to fully reimburse our schools for the actual costs they have incurred beginning in the 2002-2003 school year to the present; and

-          Third, appropriate sufficient funds this coming fiscal year in order to keep the debt from growing any further and to ensure that the claims from each school can be fully paid.  We estimate the amount needed ranges from $50 to $60 million more than what the Governor recommended.

The second area is the MTA Payroll Tax:

As you know, the MTA payroll tax is costing our parents approximately $7 million dollars every year.  Governor Cuomo’s budget includes $70 million to reimburse public schools for their MTA costs, and not a dime for students in non-governmental schools.  Our schools do not have reserve funds or tax levy authority like their public school counterparts.  Our only options are to raise tuition and/or reduce services to students to cover this tax.  Higher tuition means fewer kids in our schools and greater strain on the public system and your budgets.

We are grateful for the efforts being made thus far to remedy this injustice.  I specifically want to thank Speaker Silver for his commitment and the full Assembly for having passed an MTA chapter amendment last year.  I also want to thank Senator Skelos, Senator Lanza and Senator Golden for leading the effort in the Senate this year.

While there is support from both sides of the aisle in each chamber, it is vital that you not let another year slip by without fixing the problem.  I urge you to include $7.5 million in the 2011-12 state budget to reimburse religious and independent schools for their MTA costs and to permanently include our children to the reimbursement entitlement in statute.

The third and most fundamental area is that of Parental Choice:

It is in the area of parental choice that we see the gravest injustice perpetrated on families, no matter whether it’s a family with children in public school or a family with children in a Catholic or Baptist school, Yeshiva, or some other independent school.

Let me reiterate an argument that I know you’ve heard before.  There are thousands of children trapped in chronically low-performing government schools — schools that have been proven to be ineffective.  The cost to the taxpayer and society in general is exorbitant.  The cost to the family, in the form of shattered hopes and dreams and lost human potential, is far deeper and more painful.

I stand with you in support of our public schools.  All I’m asking is that our support be for all our kids, whether they’re in government or independent schools.  The leadership of the public school teachers’ unions has a vested interest in and a responsibility to support their members – the vast majority of whom are dedicated and hardworking teachers who deserve our support.   However, the unions’ advocacy interests in this case conflict with the interests and needs of thousands of ordinary children and families.  The majority of these families will continue to choose public schools for their children.  But protecting jobs for adults justifies neither the burden on the taxpayer nor the violation of the rights of children who are forced to remain in schools that don’t serve them and that are likely unsafe.  Schools exist to serve children and should not be considered employment programs.

Our government is empowered to remove a child from a neglectful home – and rightfully so.  But why then isn’t a family empowered to remove their child from a government-run school that is neglecting their education or perhaps even their safety?  The only means of escape for these children is if their family has enough money to move them to another school, or if they win a seat in a charter school.  And what about the families whose children are enrolled in an independent school?  These families are shouldering the dual burden of taxes to support public schools and tuition to support their own children’s education.   Why can’t they get some of their own tax money back to help support their own children?

Perhaps some fear that supporting a broader parental choice program will harm public schools.  I’m here to tell you that you need not be afraid.

Just look at the experience in Milwaukee where we have the oldest and broadest parental choice programs in the country.  Opponents of parental choice argued that choice would decimate the public schools.  In fact, just the opposite happened.  Not only did public school expenditures rise, but so did public school enrollment and academic achievement.

But how can that be if more children were being enrolled in religious and independent schools?  Don’t take it from me, just ask former Milwaukee public officials, including Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee school superintendent, who argue that parental choice helped to revitalize the city and, as a result, people began moving their families back into the city.  Having served as the Archbishop of Milwaukee, I can attest to the fact that broad-based parental choice programs benefit all children in all schools.

Some will argue that we cannot afford parental choice programs.  Again, the opposite is true – we cannot afford not to enact parental choice.  If you continue to support only public schools, including charter schools, instead of all our children, then you will only exacerbate the fiscal crisis you are desperately and laudably trying to resolve, since the data clearly shows that we educate our children better for half the cost.  Simply put, helping our independent schools also helps our public schools and our budget!

The Governor proposes $250 million in new spending to reward academic improvement in public schools.  If you want academic success, you need to look no further than the New York’s religious and independent schools.  But do the 200,000 students in our schools get rewarded?  Quite the contrary.

The Governor also proposes another $250 million to reward administrative efficiencies in public schools.  Not only are New York’s religious and independent schools the most efficient, but our families – the families who sacrifice to pay public school taxes and private school tuition – are saving New York taxpayers at least $8 BILLION each and every year!  Where is their reward?  They don’t even get a thank you.  All they get are higher taxes and higher tuition.

I’m not surprised that our parents and kids are angry.  They know you support public schools – and that’s fine – so do they.  They know you support the growth of charter schools – and that’s fine too.  But they want to know why you are not supporting them as well.

As the public sector expands, the religious and independent sector is shrinking – and it is taxpaying families who pay the price.  Please reverse this trend.  We urge you to enact a scholarship or education tax credit program that will provide meaningful assistance to enable parents to choose the school best suited for their children.

All I’m asking is that, in justice, when you laudably move to promote education, it be for all our kids, not just those in government schools.

While this concludes my oral remarks, I offer additional areas in my written testimony.

My prayers and best wishes are with you.  I thank you for your time and consideration.  We are more than happy to answer any question you may have.

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6 Responses to “Education Hearing”

  1. Michael says:

    While my remarks may be a bit off point I feel the need to make them none the less. I have been a member of the NYC Dept of Education for over twenty years. During that time I have worked in the same building and have been blessed to touch the lives of thousands of students; in a positive manner I hope. I watched my comprehensive high school slowly turn into a poor performing school that was eventually closed…replaced by small schools at the whim of the Mayor. As was proven by the very union the Archbishop chooses to malign, the DOE set up my school and many others by sending out of district students to us; students that were well below their grade level in the key areas of Math and English. The purpose was to get these schools placed on the SURR list (Schools Under Regents Review) and then set the wheels in motion to slate them for closing. I suggest the Archbishop look at the UFT findings with regard to Columbus High School as a case in point. Were it not for the union, which believe me I am not thrilled with, who knows how far the DOE would go left unchecked. Many of my colleagues who were not as fortunate to find a job will likely be forced out if the Mayor has his way. I love my job, I love my students but I detest the bureaucracy and the manner in which business is conducted. To blame the union for representing its members and fighting for their rights is ludicrous to say the least. I am deeply concerned with the Archbishop’s view of education and the vital role unions play in protecting members. It is the job of the DOE to protect the children and the UFT is committed to that in my opinion.
    I should like to mention at this point that my three daughters have been enrolled in Catholic school even though their father works in public education. The sacrifice has been substantial (I work 3 jobs) but I feel it is the right thing to do despite comments from friends and family. The reward for my dedication and commitment is that the Archbishop, through his panel, has seen fit to close their school. Yes enrollment is down and the recession has not helped but closing the school has rocked my faith in the Archbishop and the Archdiocese of New York. While I pray to God for guidance and understanding I am left wondering if I made the right choice years ago. My middle daughter will have the joy of spending her last year in grade school apart from her classmates in a new school where she knows few if any children. I challenge the Archbishop to meet with my daughters and explain to them why this was necessary for the sake of Catholic education. In my opinion, The Archbishop has failed my children in a way that is worse than what the Mayor or Governor has tried. He has taken a school that was achieving and shuttered it for the sake of a few dollars. Archbishop Dolan you should be ashamed of yourself! I have seen a great many things happen that have shaken my faith and yet I remained faithful to my Catholic heritage. These are my children being maligned, my most cherished gifts and I must admit I am not certain my faith in the Church will survive. I am certain the Archbishop feels he is doing the right thing but I must vehemently disagree!

  2. Irene says:

    I would like to see a personal income tax deduction for educational expenses up to the amount the state is spending per child for public education. In NYC we are spending more than $17,000 per child in general education spending. By sending my two daughters two Catholic school, I am saving the state more than $35,000 in unclaimed entitlements. I think I should be able to deduct up to that amount from my income for my daughters’ education expenses. (I currently spend well below that amount, about $9,000 a year, so a tax deduction cost the state less than a $1,000).

    I have no problem at all supporting the education of other people’s children through my taxes- even people much better off financially than I am- but I think fairness demands that my own children, too, receive some support for their education.

  3. AnnMarie Flynn says:

    Archbishop Dolan, very well said and I thank you for that. However, with all do respect, I do question your Pathways of Excellence plan. This plan does not help my family or my town. My children attend Sacred Heart of Jesus in Highland Falls. Our community is hanging on by a thread. We closed 1 public school last June and now our ONLY other option will be closed as well. I realize a plan was presented back in December and rejected. However, I have worked on an alternate plan and feel it is sound. A key piece is having students from New Windsor and Cornwall join us. We would become the catholic regional school in the southern most part of Orange County. This will also allow the West Point families a place to receive a catholic education. Also part of this plan is opening up program after 3pm for the community and having colleges come in and teach classes after 6 o’clock. It is clearly a win win program for our families, town and the ADNY. Please consider this. My 6 year old came home today and talked of Jesus and his miracle with 3 fish and a few loaves of bread. We can re-create this miracle right here in the Town of Highlands. Just give us one year to prove it to you.

  4. Dear Archbishop,

    Please add our blog to your blogroll.

    Following the great blessings that came from the Year for Priests we thought that a Holy Year for Nuns would be a great blessing to the Church. You are very welcome to adopt the idea and we would be very happy if you would promoted it:

    http://catholicheritage.blogspot.com/2011/02/proclaim-holy-year-for-nuns.html

    God bless you!

  5. In regards to your interview with Morley shafer, I would suggest that your effort to lay claim that their is no deference between a priest or a teacher etc etc being a child molester ! What profession would you say is the one to which you would say if you have any problems beliefs or disbeliefs come to me and I will show you the way to live your life. A cop a teacher or a priest, Of all of the professions you mentioned whitch one would you say is the highest calling! That would bear the most respect,The one to run to when in doubt, weather it be a priest, rabbi or reverend . Would you not say that the clergy should be held in the highest acclaim! Remember the air we breath is all the same, the standard to whitch we live however is not. A cop ,teacher or a fireman does not lay claim to absolve you of all your sins when your time comes, can a cleargyman who has committed child molestation still get you into heaven if he is not caught! Does god forgive his own preachers as they go against his will. I for one do not think so. That is why it is called a HIGHER calling because not every man is cut from the same cloth , no pun intended. As for no sin is higher than the other I do not agree with your teachings I’m sorry . To steal a loaf of bread to feed your family or to rape and kill a child is not the same, and neither is to commit child abuse in the name of the lord! Thank you for your time.m

  6. FRANKLIN JASKO says:

    Having recovered somewhat from having seen 60 Minutes on Sunday, I am saddened by the fact that the ONLY way to get to Archbishop Dolan is through his blog. Sad to say that Dolan’s \perception\ response was as if to say that the church needed a makeover as on one of the cable TV reality channels.