As this year’s legislative session unfolds, education reform has become central to Albany’s legislative agenda. The Governor, has called for major education legislation that includes universal prekindergarten and $1.6 billion in new spending.
This comes as Bishop Richard Malone announced that the Dioceses of Buffalo is forced to close 10 neighborhood elementary schools in Western New York, as fewer parents are able to afford tuition and as school property taxes increase, squeezing working class families. The restructuring is displacing nearly 1,200 students and nearly 200 faculty and staff. Parishioners subsidize the schools at about $13.8 million a year.
Senator Mark Grisanti, along with Senators Gallivan and Maziarz, is calling on Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos to include Senate Bill S4099, known as the “Education Investment Tax Credit,” in the 2014-2015 budget. The bill has previously passed the Senate in 2011 and 2012, with no action being taken in the Assembly because of the opposition of Speaker Sheldon Silver.
“Catholic and other schools in Western New York and throughout the state are under tremendous financial pressure not for lack of desire or demand, but due to low-income and middle class families that are losing the financial struggle to provide this needed educational opportunity for their children,” Grisanti says.
Certainly, the Catholic constituency is important to Grisanti, who represents the 60th District, including North Buffalo, Riverside, the Tonawandas, Grand Island, Hamburg, and Orchard Park. The Diocese is closing four schools in his district: St. Francis of Assisi, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Saint Mary of the Lake, and Saint Bernadette. Earlier this month Grisanti invited Bishop Malone to offer the Invocation at the opening of the State Senate’s legislative session.
In his press release, Grisanti notes that Senators Tim Kennedy and Michael Razenhofer have not co-sponsored the legislation. A number of schools are closing in both of their Senate districts.
It will be interesting to see whether or not Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly endorses the legislation (which would be unwelcome in a large corner of the Democratic Party), and whether or not Cuomo will appear with Grisanti and Bishop Malone during one of his frequent visits to the region. Cuomo has been attentive to the region’s politics since his 8-county loss here to Carl Paladino.
Potential gubernatorial candidate Donald Trump will be in Buffalo on January 31, though he has not yet taken a position on this legislation, or on the issue of tuition tax credits more broadly.
UPDATE: A previously posted version of this article incorrectly suggested that Senator Grisanti is the only Senator from Western New York to co-sponsor the Education Investment Tax Credit legislation (S4099). Senators Patrick Gallivan and George Maziarz are also co-sponsors. Apologies for the error.