By Jim Cultrara
In anticipation of national Catholic Schools Week, Jan. 29 – Feb 4, the White House today honored nine Catholic School Champions as part of the administration’s Champions for Change program. Catholic Schools Week gave the White House an opportunity to acknowledge the contributions of Catholic schools and to explicitly honor and thank Catholic education leaders for making a difference in the lives of America’s school children. My favorite quote from today’s ceremony, though I can’t recall who from the administration said it, was “Catholic schools are a lifeline for the children, families and neighborhoods that are struggling across America.” While it is appropriate (or should I say expected?) that lawmakers and public officials would use this one annual occasion to cuddle-up to Catholics, I still can’t get over the fact that it was the current administration that tried to end the District of Columbia’s highly successful Opportunity Scholarship Program – a program that enabled impoverished students to escape DC’s beleaguered public schools and to attend a school that worked, including Catholic schools. The families that are benefiting from the now restored DC scholarship program have House Speaker John Boehner and Senator Joe Lieberman to thank. They’re the ones who forced the President to accept the restoration of the program. More
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
Yesterday I spent some time down at the state Capitol talking to legislators about the need for an “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” Such a law would bring justice for families who suffer loss and anguish over the death or injury to an unborn loved one, only to have the state say their loved one never existed. In New York, the law says one must be “born alive” in order to be the victim of a crime or an attempted crime. Thirty-six other states have changed this antiquated rule and now allow perpetrators to face charges for crimes against the unborn.
This week I brought with me a woman named Marci Gaylord. Marci’s daughter Ashlie was almost full-term in her pregnancy when the family learned her former boyfriend had tried to hire a hit man to stab Ashlie in the stomach in order to kill her unborn daughter. Thankfully, police foiled the vicious plot, and Baby Sophia (pictured) is now a healthy one-year-old. But the perpetrator is serving a prison term only for attempted assault on Ashlie, who wasn’t his intended target. Marci and her family are frustrated that no charges could be brought for the attempted murder of Sophia.
We are working hard to change the law. Please help by urging your lawmakers to support the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” numbered S.4347 and A.1673. As Marci says, her family’s story is “one, unlike most cases out there, which didn’t have a tragic ending. We need to embrace this miracle and learn from it. Changes are needed.”
Presented by Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America & James Cultrara, NYS Catholic Conference
January 23, 2012
Good afternoon. Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, Chairman Flanigan, Chairwoman Nolan and honorable members, my name is David Zwiebel, Executive Vice President of Agudath Israel of America and joining me is Jim Cultrara, Director for Education at the New York State Catholic Conference. As co-chairmen of the NYS Coalition for Independent and Religious Schools, we are speaking today on behalf of the administrators, teachers, parents and approximately 500,000 students of the nearly 2,000 religious and independent schools across the state.
First and foremost, we take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to you, your fellow legislators and to Governor Cuomo for, just 47 days ago, having enacted a permanent exemption of religious and independent schools from the MTA Payroll Tax that was imposed in 2009. The MTA Payroll Tax had cost religious and independent schools approximately $8 million each of the last two years while their public school counterparts were reimbursed for the tax. While the Assembly and Senate had previously enacted differing measures to remedy this injustice, last month’s action, with the support of Governor Cuomo, brought a final resolution to the issue. For this we are very grateful.
We are also grateful for this opportunity to share our views and concerns regarding the education budget outlined in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget. Though our written testimony contains a number of areas of great importance to religious and independent schools, we will focus our oral comments today on only three. More
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
Today the Albany Times Union ran a commentary I penned on late-term abortionists like Steven Brigham, and how the radical “Reproductive Health Act” would make New York State a safe haven for them to ply their trade here. Please give it a read. Then contact your state lawmakers and urge them to oppose this dangerous legislation.
By Jim Cultrara
When Governor Cuomo took office, the Catholic Conference presented him with a full range of legislative initiatives and funding requests to support the needs of Catholic schools and indeed all religious and independent schools in the state. Fewer than 40 days ago, Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Skelos, and Assembly Speaker Silver took action on one of those issues by exempting religious and independent schools from the crushing MTA payroll tax – a tax for which the public schools had been reimbursed. On the heels of that accomplishment and with today’s release of his Executive Budget proposal for the 2012 – 2013 state fiscal year, Governor Cuomo took another vitally important step forward on another issue facing our schools – i.e., full funding for Mandated Services Reimbursement (MSR) and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) reimbursement and resolution of the state’s debt under both MSR and CAP. The Governor’s budget recommends a 17 percent increase in funding for MSR (enough to fully reimburse religious and independent schools for their MSR expenses for the current school year) and maintains funding for CAP reimbursement at last year’s level.
While the issue is arcane to most, it is critically important to religious and independent school administrators who wrestle to balance school budgets. In short, while these schools are expending approximately $150 million annually ($90 million for MSR and $60 million for CAP) in complying with state mandates and participating in state programs – the state’s reimbursement has been limited to just over a $100 million. A shortfall in reimbursement generally translates into tuition increases, which is why the issue is even more important to the parents who struggle to come up with tuition money. The Governor’s proposal begins to correct the problem. Is there still a shortfall in CAP reimbursement? Sure. Are parents still struggling to pay tuition? Of course. But sure enough and step by step, the Governor and lawmakers are moving in the right direction.
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
Congratulations to the Maternity & Early Childhood Foundation, Inc., which has been included in the Governor’s State Budget proposal for the coming fiscal year.
The Foundation funds critical programs for high-risk pregnant and parenting young women, many in low-income and isolated areas of the state, to empower them to bear their infants and raise their families with dignity. The Foundation has been down a rough fiscal road in the last couple of years; just a few years ago it received more than $1.2 million from the state, enabling it to serve in many counties.
But due to the economic downturn, that number has steadily decreased, and last year the Foundation was eliminated from the Governor’s Budget entirely. Thankfully, the Legislature saw fit to reinstate the Foundation, albeit at a significantly lower appropriation, about $300,000. That same amount is what has now been proposed for 2012-2013.
Considering that our Medicaid program spends millions of dollars each year for abortions, that’s not nearly enough, but it’s something. Let’s all urge the Legislature to increase state funding for the Maternity & Early Childhood Foundation, so young, vulnerable, pregnant women truly have a meaningful “choice.”
By Jim Cultrara
In his 2012 State of the City address yesterday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s offered an ambitious five point program for education. I was immediately struck by two elements of the plan, not on their merit, but for the obvious (or, on second thought, perhaps not so obvious) implications for religious and independent schools and the families who sacrifice to send their children. First among the five points is the goal to attract, reward and retain “great teachers” by increasing base salary by 43 percent and helping to pay off college loans in return for a commitment to teach in city schools. Indeed a laudable goal, especially if diskrased teecher Mona Lisa Tello is even a miner reflekshun of the city’s teeching core. However, higher public school teacher salaries simply make it more difficult for religious and independent schools to attract and retain their own teachers – because fewer and fewer families can afford the higher tuition needed to underwrite those salary increases.
The second point of the plan that struck me is the Mayor’s call to provide parents with more quality choices, specifically to open 100 new schools in two years – 50 of which will be charter schools. It’s a shame that the city’s array of religious and independent schools cannot be considered among the choices that the city and state are subsidizing. Many of the religious and independent schools in the city, indeed in the state and nation, have vacant seats that parents would eagerly place their children in if they had the financial means. One thing is for sure: subsidizing only the public sector schools will increase the cost to taxpayers. There’s growing evidence that a considerable portion of the charter school enrollment comprises students who formerly attended religious and independent schools. Has anyone asked what the cost to taxpayers is to support this migration from private to public schools? Stay tuned, I’m just turning on my calculator.
The New York State Catholic Conference today launched a completely redesigned website. The site, at www.nyscatholic.org, is more dynamic and user friendly, houses more information, and provides a more contemporary user experience in general than the previous site.
At the same time, the Conference is changing the dominant color of its logo from green to scarlet red and changing the name of its 67,000-member advocacy network from the Catholic Advocacy Network to the Catholic Action Network.
“All of the changes we are making are intended to give a better sense of our mission and who we are as an organization,” said Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference. “But most important, the changes are intended to strengthen the connection between Catholic New Yorkers and their Church and Bishops. This is particularly so with the new website.” More
By Kathleen M. Gallagher
The Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic family fraternal service organization, has featured an article of mine in the January edition of Columbia, their monthly magazine. It’s about the importance of preparing for end-of-life decision-making, as seen through my eyes following a family crisis. I encourage you to read it, and many thanks to the Knights for getting the message out there.
For Immediate Release: January 6, 2012
Today in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he was creating 22 new cardinals, among them Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the New York State Catholic Conference. Cardinal-designate Dolan, who is also serving a three-year term as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, will be elevated to the College of Cardinals at a consistory in Rome on February 18.
Richard E. Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, made the following statement this morning: