The leadership of the New York Civil Liberties Union today called on the New York State Legislature and the governor to reject a Republican budget proposal that would provide $500 million in tax credits to those who donate money to support privately owned charter schools or students who attend private religious schools.

The "Education Investment Incentives Act," sponsored by Martin J. Golden in the Senate and Michael Cusick in the Assembly with a public lobbying effort led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, harms public education by diverting money that would otherwise go to the state’s general revenue fund and raises serious First Amendment issues by facilitating the transfer of public money to religious schools.

The following can be attributed to NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman:

“The right to a meaningful public education is at the core of our democracy – and educational opportunity must be available to all children on a fair and equitable basis, no matter how poor they are, no matter what their educational needs are – and no matter what their race, religion or sexual orientation.

“The Education Investment Incentive is not about fair and equitable system of public education for all students — it’s about tax credits that allow hedge funds and millionaires to siphon off nearly half a billion dollars to support their idea of what education should look like: private schools for the 1 percent, religious schools that can throw kids out and fire teachers for having the wrong faith – or not having enough – and privately owned and operated charter schools that operate without accountability and would turn our underfunded public schools into a dumping ground for New York’s neediest and most challenging students.

“Let there be no mistake – the NYCLU does not oppose private schools. We do not oppose charter schools. And we defend the right of religious groups to educate their children in accordance with their faith, instead of in the public schools. But it is fundamentally at odds with the separation of church and state – the bedrock principle that government cannot promote religion or religious worship or support one religion over another – to create a vast public funding stream for the promotion of religious education.

“And what we are talking about is indeed a vast funding stream. This is not about whether donations to educational and charitable non-profits are tax deductible – they already are. This scheme would create what is essentially a dollar-for-dollar tax rebate, giving the 1 percent an open invitation to bend education policy to their whim. It should be defeated.”