Westchester Forum On Burden Of Private School Tuition

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Elliot Spiegel, head of the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, introduces six New York state legislators Thursday in Hartsdale at forum discussing affordability of private school tuition. Photo Credit: Samantha Kramer

HARTSDALE, N.Y. — Every year, Steven and Jill Abusch have to decide whether they can continue to afford to send their two daughters to the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in Hartsdale.

If it weren't for the help offered by the school's scholarship program, they wouldn't be able to.

"The school can't continue to provide that without figuring a way to make up for the difference," Steven Abusch said.

The Abusches joined about a hundred other parents from Catholic and Jewish day schools across Westchester County Thursday night to hear from several New York state Assembly members and senators about what can be done to alleviate their burden of rising tuition. The forum, held at Solomon Schechter, also heard from Jim Cultrara, education director of the New York State Catholic Conference; and Timothy McNiff, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of New York.

While the panel addressed school safety and transportation issues at religious and independent schools, its main focus was pushing to enact the Education Investment Incentives Act. The bill would increase both public and private school scholarships by making donations from scholarship organizations eligible for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit from state tax liability. It would be a benefit for education across the board, said Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon).

Hassell-Thompson and the rest of the panel also encouraged parents to write to their Assembly members and senators to urge the bill's passing.

"We need your help so the governor knows we're trying to get education for all children," she said. "Education across the board has to be on the main agenda for the state of New York."'

The bill is Assembly bill A1826. To track its progress in the Legislature, search for A1826 at http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us.

Reimbursement for state mandates, including administering state tests, keeping immunization records and collecting student data, must also be on the agenda, McNiff added. If the archdiocese had been given the $31 million owed to it in delinquent reimbursements he wouldn't have had to announce the closing of 26 Catholic schools last week, he said.

What's even more frustrating is that among the 9,000 Catholic school students who were displaced, about 3,000 will go into the public school system — overcrowding the schools and creating even bigger obstacles, he said.

"Without that bill, we'll get the same pressure in five years as we're experiencing right now," McNiff said. "The state needs to become a partner in a serious and tangible way."

Catholic school parents Roger Rooney and his wife, Elizabeth Rooney, said they wished the state realized how difficult it is to afford sending children to private school while still having to worry about rising school district taxes.

"If religious school students are displaced and the public schools absorb them, they're going to have a lot of problems," said Roger Rooney, whose two daughters attend Transfiguration School in Tarrytown. "Every year it's tough."

Attached: Education Investment Incentives Act (education_investment_incentives_act-a1826.pdf)

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