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Hope that Grows with Executive Director, Ismini Scouras

School choice in the U.S. continues to gain significant momentum this year as many state legislatures have expanded programs that give families alternatives to public schools. The movement is so strong that the first religious charter school, which happens to be Catholic, was approved in Oklahoma earlier this month. Will this momentum make its way to New York where vouchers or tax-credit programs don’t exist? I’d like to think that nothing is impossible. Perhaps the Educational Choice for Children Act could be the ticket to greater educational freedom and opportunity for New York families. Earlier this year, U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA) and Congressman Adrian Smith (R-NE-03) introduced the Educational Choice for Children Act, which would provide up to $10 billion in annual tax credits for individual and businesses donating to non-profit scholarship granting organizations for K-12 education.

This bill would expand private school choice to ALL 50 states and empower parents of up to two million students nationwide to choose the best school or education service for their children. And this would include Catholic and other faith-based schools!

I learned about this federal tax credit proposal two summers ago when I attended the Children’s Scholarship Fund Partner Summit in NYC. It caught my attention. I thought if a bill like this would pass, it would be a huge boon to organizations fundraising for scholarships, especially in states like New York where other forms of school choice are not likely to pass at the state level. At a Partner call with CSF last month, an update was provided by John Schilling, a senior advisor at Invest in Education, which is building a nationwide coalition of supporters for ECCA, which includes the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Details about the bill were shared with the participants, and my excitement continued to build with the potential impact this would have on Tomorrow’s Hope and Long Island families in need of tuition assistance. To qualify, a scholarship granting organization must have as its “substantial purpose” handing out scholarships and be a 501(c)3 organization. K-12 students would be eligible to receive a scholarship provided they reside in households with incomes at or below 300 percent of the federal median income standard. This threshold covers approximately 85-90% of K-12 students in the states. The scholarships could be used for tuition, tutoring for learning loss, fees, on-line courses, education technology, and special needs services. Every state would start with a base of $20 million and then credits would be distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

I started to dig deeper to get a handle on how the mechanism to receive funding would work for scholarship granting organizations, which would decide scholarship eligibility, amount, and purpose. I learned that eligible scholarship granting organizations would register with the Treasury Department, which would administer the allotment of these tax credits and keep a running count of how many credits have been registered by State.

I thought this was too good to be true, and for New York, it would be. Of course, the federal government has limited power over the 50 states, and not every state would participate. House cosponsors of the bill include six representatives from New York—Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY-11), Claudia Tenney (R-NY-24), Mike Lawler (R-NY-17), Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY-4), and Brandon Williams (R-NY-22). Still, in New York where it has been legislatively impossible to establish school choice programs, the chances would be slim to nothing. “The Teachers’ Union and entrenched political opposition are immovable barriers to NY families getting the help they need.,” Schilling said, in a recent call with him.

Parents deserve better. Through education, we are helping break the cycle of poverty so many families endure generation after generation. Parents should have a choice on where and how their children are educated no matter what state they live in or their socioeconomic status. I won’t stop advocating for our families in need. And I hope you will too.

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