Testimony

Testimony to the Governor’s Task Force to Combat the Heroin and Opioid Crisis

15_261593-rxopioidshalf-300x300Testimony by Vincent Colonno
Chief Executive Officer, Catholic Charities of Albany
Chairman, NYS Council of Catholic Charities Directors

Printable PDF

Lt. Governor Hochul, Commissioner Gonzalez-Sanchez, elected officials, and members of the Governor’s Task Force to Combat the Heroin and Opioid Crisis: Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony on this very serious issue. My name is Vincent Colonno and I am the C.E.O. of Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the Chairman of the Council of Catholic Charities Directors for the New York State Catholic Conference. The state’s heroin crisis is a serious problem, with no easy solution. Otherwise, this crisis would have been eradicated already. On behalf of my colleagues at the Council, I would like to offer some suggestions to the Task Force for your consideration.

First, the supply of opioids needs to be reduced dramatically. The length of prescriptions for certain drugs and certain medical ailments/procedures needs to be changed. Permit me to elaborate. It seems commonplace that opiates are being prescribed for non-invasive medical procedures for durations that are too long and lead to unused medications being left in the medicine cabinet, or worse, needlessly consumed, which can be a gateway to addiction. In just the past couple of days, I have identified three very real and true stories that illustrate the danger of needless over-prescribing. First, a colleague of mine was recently prescribed a 30-day prescription for Oxycontin for pain related to an infected tooth. In this case, that was about 28 ½ days too many for the prescription, because the pain was short lived. Those pills were not needed for a 30 day period and they ended up in his medicine cabinet until a drug return day was available in his community. Thankfully, my colleague and his wife are very pro-active in talking to their children about alcohol and drugs and, to date, their two college children have not succumbed to experimenting with drugs. And they never had to worry about their children sneaking into the medicine cabinet. I will address the disposal issue later in my remarks. More


Testimony on the 2016-17 housing budget

Testimony of the New York State Catholic Conference regarding the 2016-17 Housing Budget, submitted by Michael A. Lawler, Director of Catholic Charities, NYS Catholic Conference, Joint Legislative Budget Hearing, Legislative Office Building, Albany, N.Y.

February 1, 2016

In the human services arena, the expertise, experience and advice of the Council of Catholic Charities Directors guides the New York State Catholic Conference. Catholic Charities programs exist in all eight dioceses and all 62 counties of the state to provide services to people in need, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Our Catholic tradition compels us to be active participants in the civic life of our community, to fashion a more just world that upholds the dignity of every individual and to serve those in need. The Catholic Church in New York State fulfills its mandate to care for the most vulnerable through its vast network of Catholic Charities agencies.

The needs of the poor and vulnerable must not be ignored. A key measure of any society is how the most vulnerable members are cared for; those with the greatest need are due special attention. There is a long history in New York State of government and not-for-profit provider collaboration to deliver services in a cost-effective manner. This public/private partnership in support of the poor and vulnerable must be maintained.

Across the state, Catholic Charities provides food and nutrition programs, adoption and foster care services, housing programs, immigrant and refugee services, emergency assistance, counseling, child care, behavioral health services, developmental disabilities programs, prison ministry and more. Our partnership with the state in serving the poor and vulnerable provides obvious benefit, both to those we serve and to the state.

Governor Cuomo’s sixth Executive Budget totals $145.3 billion, an increase of $1.71 billion, or 1.2 percent over current levels. This is the sixth budget proposal in which spending growth is kept below 2 percent.

Given the fact that spending is limited on a year-to-year basis, it is important to recognize and advocate for those commitments that are included in the Housing portion of this year’s spending plan. More


Bishop Scharfenberger testimony on 2016-17 Education Budget

Official Bishop PortriatTestimony of the Most Reverend Edward B. Scharfenberger, Bishop of Albany, representing the New York State Catholic Conference, regarding the 2016-17 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget, Joint Legislative Budget Hearing, Legislative Office Building, Albany, N.Y. (Testimony submitted in writing.)

January 27, 2016

Introduction

For more than 200 years, the state’s Catholic schools have been providing an outstanding education to thousands of our state’s children, many of whom are not Catholic. Especially in our inner cities, Catholic schools continue to help bring children out of poverty. As you know, however, parents are increasingly unable to shoulder the dual burden of taxes to support public schools while paying tuition to support the education of their own children. The decline in enrollment and the resulting closing of Catholic schools over the decades is no surprise. Little attention, however, has been paid to the added cost to taxpayers.

In the last five years, more than 75 Catholic schools across the state were forced to close. More than 300 have closed in the last 20 years. Most of the displaced students then enroll in the already over-burdened public school system at a far greater cost to taxpayers. The shift of enrollment from private to public schools over the last 20 years has increased the cost to taxpayers by more than $2 billion- each and every year!  Unless something meaningful is done to support the education of children in religious and independent schools, this trend will continue to exacerbate the burden on taxpayers. But even more importantly, more and more children will be denied the opportunity to escape poverty and have a brighter future that the remarkable success of Catholic schools offers.

While my brother bishops and I have been forced to make the extraordinarily difficult decision to close Catholic schools too many times in recent years, I must note that no Catholic school has closed due to academic failure. This is something that cannot be said about either traditional public or charter schools. Nor have our schools been closed due to lack of desire on the part of parents to enroll their children. The loss of Catholic schools in New York State comes down entirely to the rising costs and the inability of parents to pay the increasing tuition needed to meet those costs. This has been a tragedy for the state, for the parents of those children who are enrolled and those who wish they could be, and for the children themselves. The good news is that you have the opportunity to do something about it, without hurting any other children or any other schools. All it takes is the political will to act now. More


Testimony of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger on civil legal services for the poor and vulnerable

Following is the testimony of Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany at a hearing on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, on the issue of civil legal services for the poor. The hearing was held at the NYS Court of Appeals by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman; Karen Peters, the presiding justice of the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Third Department; the state’s chief administrative judge, Lawrence Marks; and incoming New York State Bar Association President Claire Gutekunst.

Official Bishop PortriatGood morning Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Hon. Karen Peters, Hon. Lawrence Marks, and New York State Bar Association President-Elect Claire Gutekunst. It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak with you about a cause that we all care about deeply: justice for ALL New Yorkers. I am honored to join Rabbi Dennis S. Ross and Rev. David Traynham in sharing with you the support of the local religious communities for this cause.

Indeed, providing social justice for all, regardless of income, race, or any other difference, is based on God’s call to us all to help the widow, the orphan, the immigrant, the hungry and the homeless.

As the Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, I know firsthand that many Catholics in the Capital District need the services that you have worked so hard to provide for the poor and needy throughout New York. More


Testimony to Wage Board regarding study of “fast food worker” pay

Printable PDF

Hon. Byron Brown
Kevin Ryan
Mike Fishman
NYS Department of Labor

ATTN:  Wage Board

Bldg. 12, Room 586
Harriman State Office Campus
Albany, NY  12240

June 22, 2015

Dear Wage Board Members:

On behalf of the NYS Council of Catholic Charities Directors, I submit this testimony in connection with the Governor’s charge to this Wage Board to study and report to the State Labor Commissioner whether certain workers should receive an increase above the current minimum wage.  It should be noted that at the outset there is no New York State codified definition of “fast food workers,” so who is to be included or excluded from consideration will need to be clarified.

The primary issue relates to singling out fast food workers over other segments of the working population, including human services workers. These essential workers are people who provide services and supports to our most vulnerable residents of New York State – those with developmental disabilities, mental health needs, substance use disorders, and physical frailties.

This sector already competes for workers with the fast food industry where the rate of pay is generally comparable.  Because human services jobs involve unique pressures/risks not found elsewhere, these fields regrettably have seen many employees leave to take positions in other industries, including food services.  Indeed, as evidenced by the Governor’s creation of a Justice Center for oversight and regulation of those who work with vulnerable populations, human services workers have unique challenges and responsibilities that should be factored into any assessment of appropriate compensation levels.

The creation of a disparity in the minimum wage by which human services workers would fall behind other employment sectors could have serious unintended consequences.  The human services sector is already struggling to maintain its workforce and provide the high quality direct services that New York State vulnerable residents so rely upon and deserve.  Such a disparity would further strain recruitment and retention of qualified staff.

In accordance with the statement of the Acting Labor Commissioner that 60 percent of fast food workers also received at least one public assistance benefit, it is incumbent upon this Board to assess the impact of any wage increase on the eligibility for public benefits, in order to determine whether the workers are indeed better off.  Since eligibility criteria for public benefits are interrelated, wages alone cannot be viewed in isolation.

For years, human services advocates have called for annual trend adjustments in our New York State funded contracts, only to be told to wait.  Should this Board determine that the State’s minimum wage is insufficient, commensurate adjustments for those who provide New York’s care to vulnerable populations will need to be funded.  Furthermore, the resulting compression issue will also need to be addressed in order to avert the negative impact upon recruitment and retention of experienced workers.

It would be unjust to pit one segment of the workforce against another.  Let’s work together to forge a united front to provide fair wages to all in our State, so that everyone can have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Sincerely,

Michael A. Lawler
Executive Director
Council of Catholic Charities Directors


2015-16 Elementary and Secondary Education Testimony

Printable copy HERE

Testimony of te Most Reverend Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, representing the New York State Catholic Conference regarding the 2015 – 2016 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget

Presented by
James D. Cultrara
Director for Education

Hearing Room B
Legislative Office Building
Albany, N.Y.

February 3, 2015

Introduction

We are grateful for this opportunity to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals related to elementary and secondary education. For more than 200 years, the state’s Catholic schools have been providing an outstanding education to thousands of our state’s children, many of whom are not Catholic. Especially in our inner-cities, Catholic schools continue to help bring children out of poverty.  As you know, however, parents are increasingly unable to shoulder the dual burden of taxes to support public school while paying tuition to support the education of their own children. The decline in enrollment and the resulting closing of Catholic schools over the decades is no surprise. The resulting cost to taxpayers however, should alarm everyone.

Just since 2010, more than 75 Catholic schools across the state were forced to shut down. While the displaced children are provided access to neighboring Catholic schools, experience shows us that only roughly 50 percent of families take advantage of this opportunity, resulting in a significant number of children enrolling in the costly and already over-burdened public school system. The shift of enrollment from private to public schools over the last 15 years has increased the cost to taxpayers by nearly $3 billion annually. Unless more is done to support the education of children in religious and independent schools, this trend will continue to exacerbate the burden on taxpayers.

First, let me discuss the Education Investment Tax Credit proposal.

Catholic schools, like many good public schools, have been instrumental in moving hundreds of thousands out of poverty, many from immigrant populations and communities of color. But if our schools are to continue being a part of addressing New York’s inequality of resources and opportunities, we must work together to meet the fiscal challenges that threaten their very existence.

Faith-based and other independent schools are disappearing at an alarming rate. The Archdiocese of New York alone was forced to close approximately 60 schools in the last four years.  Another ten schools closed in Buffalo last year. As Bishop Malone noted in an Op/Ed in the Buffalo News last year; “when Catholic schools close, the impact is far-reaching. Lives are disrupted. Families need to find another school for their children – hopefully another Catholic school. Teachers and staff lose their jobs and, as you know, taxpayers pay a bundle more, unnecessarily, to educate children in public schools.”

Demand for Catholic schools remains strong, but working and middle class families throughout the state are finding it increasingly difficult to pay even the modest tuition that we must charge and this, in turn, restricts our ability to serve poor families. It is well known that our Catholic schools serve many non-Catholic families; our reach and service goes well beyond the Catholic community. If more low-income and minority families had access to scholarships, especially families who are desperate for successful schools, then we’d be filling seats in our under-used schools rather than consolidating our buildings. This restructuring will only restrict our ability to serve the broader community.

Our public schools also continue to face considerable financial challenges – but these challenges are not new. In fact, numerous school districts a number of years ago launched their own fund-raising arms to encourage charitable donations to support important programming in their schools. But as we can attest, the current tax deduction for such donations is simply insufficient as an incentive to drive the level of private sector resources that could otherwise be invested into education.

The Education Tax Credit legislation helps address needs for both public schools and tuition-paying families. It is this balanced approach that explains why the Governor and the overwhelming number of lawmakers support the measure. Similar legislation has been enacted in other states with great success.

The Education Tax Credit was first proposed in this state 21 years ago, with several iterations introduced in the legislature over those years. This year, there are three nearly identical versions being considered. The Senate has passed its version four times, with very strong bi-partisan support. The Assembly version is supported by an overwhelming majority of Assembly members. The Governor’s proposal, which closely mirrors the Assembly version, is included in the Governor’s Executive Budget.

The measure provides a tax credit for individuals or businesses making a donation to private scholarship organizations or public schools, local education funds established to support public schools, and to non-profit organizations providing educational programs in public schools.

Opponents of this measure are simply ignoring reality when they argue that this proposal will diminish public school funding. On the contrary, this measure will only increase overall funding to public schools. Adopting the Education Tax Credit will ensure that public schools get an additional and on-going source of revenue. Moreover, teachers, who spend their own money for necessary classroom supplies, will benefit from a personal tax credit for those expenses.

Families who enroll their children in religious and independent schools desperately need and deserve your help. Public schools, likewise, need and deserve your help. The Education Tax Credit proposal is a balanced and fair way to do both. If this proposal had already been law, we are convinced that many of those schools forced to close would be successfully educating students today. So I ask you, how many more fine schools must we lose?  We thank you for your support of this measure and urge you to include it within the final state budget.

Mandated Services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) Reimbursement:

The Governor’s recommended appropriations under the Mandated Services Reimbursement program (including CAP) are positive developments in resolving the state’s delinquency in reimbursement that has adversely affected our schools for a decade. While we appreciate last year’s $16 million appropriation as an initial payment on prior-year CAP debt, as well as the Governor’s recommended $16,768,000 as a second payment on that debt, the State Education Department (SED) continues to use a contrived formula for reimbursing our schools for their CAP expenses – ignoring enacted budget language for the last three years.

In the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 State Budgets, you and Governor Cuomo were good enough to enact language to require SED to produce an analysis of the state’s obligation under the program and to require the restoration of the original CAP reimbursement formula (which reflects actual costs) beginning with the 2013-14 fiscal year (2011-12 school-year expenses). The agreement, in effect, calls for the state’s CAP obligations thereafter to be calculated based on the original reimbursement parameters used to generate the initial CAP claims for reimbursement (2005-06 school year / 2007-08 SFY). It is presumed that the department’s CAP obligations for the preceding school years will be calculated based on the department’s “efficiency” parameters. Unfortunately, that agreement has yet to be put into effect.

We estimate that under the agreement, the state’s prior-year CAP obligation is approximately $145 million and that current annual CAP expenses are approximately $61 million. If the original formula were applied to the prior-year debt, the state’s obligation to our schools would approach $320 million.

As a result of the state’s delinquency, our schools have been forced to raise tuition to fill the gap. Tragically, many schools had to close because our families could not bear the increased burden.

The responsibility for this growing debt falls squarely on the staff of the State Education Department, who in 2007 erred in estimating the actual costs under the program. Moreover, they have yet to officially calculate their obligation to our schools under the 40-year old Mandated Services statute as required by the last three enacted state budgets.

This year offers a unique opportunity for lawmakers to easily address not only the state’s prior-year obligations under the program, but to reinstate the formula that reflects the actual costs incurred by our schools. Specifically, we ask that you to:

  • enact language that will reiterate the agreement enacted in the 2012-13 state budget to restore the original CAP formula and require SED to produce an analysis of its obligations;
  • increase the annual CAP appropriation from the recommended $47.4 million to $61 million in order to keep the debt from growing further and to ensure that current year claims can be fully reimbursed; and
  • increase the prior-year debt payment beyond the Governor’s recommended $16,768,000 in order to accelerate the satisfaction of the state’s obligation under the program.

Health, Safety and Security of our Schools:

We are grateful to you and Governor Cuomo for providing $4.5 million in safety equipment funds each of the last two years and are grateful for the Governor’s continued funding of this initiative in his Executive Budget. These funds are critically important in assisting our schools with needed safety and security measures.

The horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, remains as a startling reminder to all of us that senseless violence can occur at any school. We thank the State Senate for initiating these critically important funds and applaud the Governor and Assembly for their continued support.  We urge you to adopt the Governor’s recommended appropriation.

Smart Schools Bond Initiative:

The religious and independent school community believes that the Smart Schools Bond Act, enacted last year and approved by voters on November 4, lacks sufficient provisions to ensure that our students will benefit from an equitable share of technology funding. It appears that the only guarantee for the religious and independent school community is that our parents will be expected to shoulder an equal portion of the long-term debt burden on the bond — without any guarantee that their children or their schools will benefit. We assume that this was not the intent of lawmakers.

Specifically, public schools would be able to use the funds for four purposes: pre-kindergarten classrooms; additional classrooms for overcrowded schools; school security measures; and technology upgrades. Religious and independent schools, on the other hand, would benefit from just technology upgrades if, and only if, their respective public school district chooses to spend bond funds on technology. The act contains no requirement that districts spend their respective grants on technology. There would be a natural inclination for school districts to spend bond funds on long-term capital needs and use their own operating funds on technology, especially knowing that by doing so, they could avoid sharing any of the funds with religious and independent schools.

Moreover, even if ALL public schools spent their bond funds on technology and the equitable per-pupil amount for each and every district reaches the $250 maximum per pupil allowed under the statute, this would generate only $122 million of the $2 billion for religious and independent schools. This comprises only 6 percent of bond revenues despite the fact that our students comprise 13.4 percent of the state’s student population.

We ask that you work with the Governor and State Education Department to determine the maximum allowable per pupil allocation, based on each respective district’s allocation, and require districts to set aside the religious and independent school portion for technology upgrades. The set-aside requirement would most easily be accomplished by incorporating it into the approval process for the “Smart Schools Investment Plans” submitted by each district. You could also add the set-aside requirement through language used to appropriate bonds funds.

Even though such a set-aside falls short of being equitable, it would ensure that our students and teachers will benefit from the bond act regardless of how districts choose to spend their portion of the funds. Without such a guaranteed set-aside, we are confident that most of our schools would receive little, if any benefit, leaving our parents paying an even greater disproportionate share of the bond debt.

Nursing ServicesAn increasing number of children have acute and chronic health problems that require the daily attention and care of professional school nurses. Yet the shortage of school nurses leaves school administrators and teachers in the untenable position of having to respond to health emergencies and manage chronic health problems. School administrators and teachers are not health professionals and simply cannot and should not be forced to manage and respond to their students’ asthma, diabetes, food allergies and other health conditions.

In some cases, these health conditions can be life-threatening. A child who ingests or is otherwise exposed to a food allergen, for instance, can experience anaphylaxis and die without the timely and professional administration of an epi-pen injection. An asthmatic student can easily experience respiratory distress requiring the administration of nebulized medication. Typical playground, athletic and even classroom accidents and injuries often require immediate professional medical attention.

The protracted nursing shortage is well documented. The shortage of school nurses is due, in large measure, to inadequate pay. In some cases, the salary of school bus drivers and custodial employees exceeds that of school nurses. For parents, as well as for the school staff to whom children have been entrusted, there is nothing more important that the health and safety of their children. It is simply unconscionable to put the lives and well-being of children at risk. We urge the Governor and Legislature to ensure that a full-time nurse is available for every public, independent and religious school that needs one.

Energy Efficiency and Capital Improvements: Advances in technology and construction techniques enable our schools to be healthier, safer, more accessible and more energy efficient than ever before. This not only benefits the students, teachers and administrators who occupy school buildings every day, but also benefit utility rate payers and the community at large. Public schools are able to finance these projects with their local tax levy authority coupled with state building aid. Religious and independent students, teachers and administrators are no less deserving of the highest quality facilities, yet these schools do not have the same means to finance such projects. We urge you to appropriate seed money that would enable religious and independent schools to initiate these worthy projects.

Academic Intervention Services:  Currently only $922,000 is appropriated annually to independent and religious schools to implement the Academic Intervention Services (AIS) regulations promulgated by the Board of Regents – far below the $20 million that is needed.  Without adequate funding now, these at-risk children may easily fall behind even more – thus requiring more expensive academic interventions later. AIS funding should be increased so that, like public schools, our schools are able to provide these services to our children who are most in need.

TransportationNext to their ability to afford tuition, the second most common challenge faced by parents in enrolling their children in religious or independent schools is their ability to have their children transported to school. When parents are denied their choice of a religious or an independent school because transportation services are not available, are unreasonable or are unreliable, the burden on taxpayers increases as more of these children are enrolled in public schools. It makes financial sense to enable more parents to enroll their children in religious and independent schools and thus we strongly urge the following: (1) Restore 90 percent state reimbursement of school district costs of transporting religious and independent school students; (2) increase the maximum distance school districts are required to transport children to school from 15 to 25 miles; (3) allow parents the option to pay for the cost of transportation beyond 25 miles; (4) ensure that transportation is provided for schools with disparate schedules and calendars – and not denied to religious and independent schools when public schools are closed or when they make mid-year calendar changes; and (5) require small city school districts to transport children up to the maximum mileage limit rather than city limits.

Teacher Training and MentoringThe Regents have mandated 87.5 hours of continuing education every five years for certified teachers employed by independent and religious schools. In addition, the regulations of the Board of Regents require new teachers to obtain a mentoring experience in their first year of employment. Despite the difficult fiscal situation, it is imperative that we provide the means for all teachers to obtain and maintain the highest level of professional competence. We urge you to include $10 million in Mandated Services Aid to reimburse independent and religious schools for their expenses in providing the mandated continuing education to certified teachers and $5 million in funding to reimburse schools for their expenses in mentoring new teachers.

Learning Technology Grants: The Governor proposes $3.3 million for Learning Technology grants. The limited funding for this valuable program, however, serves only 50 school districts along with their independent and religious school partners. We strongly urge you to increase the appropriation to a level sufficient to enable all needy schools to benefit from this program.


2014-15 Education Budget Testimony

Following is the testimony of the New York State Catholic Conference regarding the 2014 – 2015 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget. Submitted in writing by Most Reverend Richard J. Malone, Bishop of Buffalo on January 28, 2014.

Introduction

Good afternoon.  Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, Chairman Flanagan, Chairwoman Nolan and honorable members, my name is Richard Malone, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  I speak today on behalf of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, our brother Bishops and the more than quarter million students, parents, teachers, and administrators who comprise the Catholic school community across the state.  Joining me is Jim Cultrara, Director for Education at the NYS Catholic Conference.

We are grateful for this opportunity to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposals related to elementary and secondary education.  Though my written testimony contains a number of areas of great importance, including the need to satisfy the state’s long-overdue reimbursement of mandated expenses and for continued school safety funding, I will limit my oral comments to two areas, namely the Education Investment Tax Credit proposal and the proposed Smart Schools bond initiative.

First, let me discuss the Education Investment Tax Credit proposal.

Like many good public schools, Catholic schools have been instrumental in moving hundreds of thousands out of poverty, many from immigrant populations and communities of color.  But if our schools are to continue being a part of addressing New York’s inequality of resources and opportunities, we must work together to meet the fiscal challenges that threaten their very existence.

It is not news to you that faith-based schools are disappearing at an alarming rate.  The Archdiocese of New York alone was forced to close approximately 60 schools in the last four years.  In Buffalo, we have just announced the closure of another ten schools.  As I noted in an Op Ed in the Buffalo News last week, when Catholic schools close, the impact is far-reaching.  Lives are disrupted.  Families need to find another school for their children – hopefully another Catholic school.  Teachers and staff lose their jobs and, as you know, taxpayers pay a bundle more, unnecessarily, to educate children in public schools.

While the demand for Catholic schools remains strong, working and middle class families throughout the state are finding it increasingly difficult to pay even the modest tuition that we must charge and this, in turn, restricts our ability to serve poor families.  It is well known that our Catholic schools serve many non-Catholic families; our reach and service goes well beyond the Catholic community.   If more low-income and minority families had access to scholarships, especially families who are desperate for successful schools, then we’d be filling seats in our under-used schools rather than consolidating our buildings.  This restructuring will only restrict our ability to serve the broader community.

As you heard from each of the witnesses that preceded me today, our public schools also continue to face considerable financial challenges – but these challenges are not new.  In fact, numerous school districts a number of years ago launched their own fund-raising arms to encourage charitable donations to support important programming in their schools.  But as we can attest, the current tax deduction for such donations is simply insufficient as an incentive to drive the level of private sector resources that could otherwise be invested into education.

There is an easy solution: the Education Investment Tax Credit legislation.  The measure not only would make additional funds available for scholarships to low- and middle-income families, it would provide an equal benefit to public schools and their teachers.  I think it is this balanced approach that explains the overwhelming support of lawmakers.  Similar legislation has been enacted in other states with great success.

As you know, the measure provides a dollar-for-dollar state tax credit for any person or business that makes a donation to public schools or private scholarship organizations.  It also provides a tax credit for individuals and business contributing directly to local education funds established to support public schools, and donations to pre-kindergarten programs and non-profit organizations providing educational programs in public schools.

The few opponents of this measure are simply ignoring reality when they argue that this proposal will diminish public school funding.  On the contrary, this measure will only increase overall funding to public schools.  In addition to the sizable increase in funding to public schools that is expected in the final state budget, we have no doubt that the final budget will also include significant tax relief measures.  Including the Education Investment Tax Credit among those tax relief measures will ensure that public schools get an additional and on-going source of revenue.  Moreover, teachers, who spend their own money for necessary classroom supplies, will benefit from a personal tax credit for those expenses.

The families who enroll their children in religious and independent schools need and deserve your help.  Public schools, likewise, need and deserve your help. The Education Investment Tax Credit proposal is a balanced and fair way to do both.  If this proposal had already been law, I am convinced we wouldn’t be closing ten schools in June.  So I ask you, how many more fine schools must we lose?  We thank you for your support of this measure and urge you to include it within the final state budget.

Let me turn to the Governor’s proposed Smart Schools Bond Initiative:

We expect all students, regardless of where they attend school, to not only be prepared for college and/or careers but to be competitive with their counterparts around the world.  This is why all students are included in the state’s computer hardware aid and learning technology grant programs as well as the federal Enhancing Education through Technology program (Title IId).  However, the federal Title IId program is no longer funded and the state’s computer and technology aid programs are insufficient to address the learning technology and assessments demands of the Common Core learning and assessment standards.

The Governor’s $2 billion Smart Schools bond initiative, which requires legislative and then voter approval, provides a crucial investment in the technology needs of schools but it is critical that it apply to all children in all schools – not just those in public schools.  The families who enroll their children in religious and independent schools will be required to pay a share of the debt incurred in supporting this bond initiative and if we are to encourage our families to vote for this bond issue, it would be important to ensure that it applies equally to all children.

While this concludes my oral remarks, we offer additional comments in our written testimony.  Be assured of our continuing prayers to each of you as you set about to address the needs of all God’s children.  Thank you for your time and we would be happy to address any questions you may have.

Mandated Services and Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP) Reimbursement: Let me reiterate our profound gratitude to you for the agreement you reached to begin to resolve the long-standing MSR / CAP debt owed to our schools.   The agreement, as embodied in the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 State Budgets, required SED to produce an analysis of the state’s obligation under the program.  The enacted budget also required the restoration of the original CAP reimbursement formula beginning with the 2013-14 fiscal year (2011-12 school-year expenses).  Specifically, the agreement calls for CAP expenses henceforth to be calculated based on the original reimbursement parameters used to generate the initial CAP claims for reimbursement (2005-06 school year / 2007-08 SFY).  It is presumed that the department’s CAP obligations for the preceding school years will be calculated based on the department’s “efficiency” parameters.

The department, however, has yet to produce its final analysis but its April 2011 analysis allows us to reasonably project the state’s unmet obligations to be approximately $195 million for CAP and $30 million for MSR – a total of approximately $225 million in delinquent reimbursement.

As you know, the Governor’s 2014-15 Executive Budget proposes a total in MSR and CAP appropriations of $142,793,000 representing a total increase of $5,228,000, or 3.8 percent over last year.  The appropriations are broken as follows:

  • $97,589,000 – for Mandated Services Reimbursement, an increase of $3,573,000.
  • $45,204,000– for CAP Reimbursement, an increase of $1,655,000.

The Governor’s recommended appropriation for CAP, however, is approximately $15 million short of what the restored CAP formula would generate this year.  While providing a modest increase in funding, the proposal still allows the state’s debt to religious and independent schools to grow by approximately $15 million. The shortfall in reimbursement must be made up by tuition-paying families which is unfair and unacceptable.

Accordingly, we urge you to:

  • increase the CAP appropriation to $59 million in order to keep the debt from growing further and to ensure that current year claims can be fully reimbursed; and
  • appropriate additional funds to begin the longer-term process of satisfying the state’s unmet obligation of $225 million for prior-year expenses.

Health, Safety and Security of our Schools:  We are grateful to you and Governor Cuomo for providing $4.5 million in safety equipment funds in last year’s budget to assist our schools with needed safety and security measures.  The State Education Department has just initiated the application process and we are eager to utilize these funds.

The horrific shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, remains as a startling reminder to all of us that senseless violence can occur at any school.  We thank the State Senate for initiating these critically important funds and we applaud Governor Cuomo for recommending continued funding at $4.5 million in his Executive Budget.  We urge you to adopt his recommended appropriation.

Nursing ServicesAn increasing number of children have acute and chronic health problems that require the daily attention and care of professional school nurses.  Yet the shortage of school nurses leaves school administrators and teachers in the untenable position of having to respond to health emergencies and manage chronic health problems.  School administrators and teachers are not health professionals and simply cannot and should not be forced to manage and respond to their students’ asthma, diabetes, food allergies and other health conditions.

In some cases, these health conditions can be life-threatening.  A child who ingests or is otherwise exposed to a food allergen, for instance, can experience anaphylaxis and die without the timely and professional administration of an epi-pen injection.   An asthmatic student can easily experience respiratory distress requiring the administration of nebulized medication.  Typical playground, athletic and even classroom accidents and injuries often require immediate professional medical attention.

The protracted nursing shortage is well documented, both nationally and in New York State.  The shortage of school nurses is due, in large measure, to inadequate pay.  In some cases, the salary of school bus drivers and custodial employees exceeds that of school nurses.  For parents, as well as for the school staff to whom children have been entrusted, there is nothing more important that the health and safety of their children.  It is simply unconscionable to put the lives and well-being of children at risk.

We urge the Governor and Legislature to ensure that a full-time nurse is available for every public, independent and religious school that needs one.

Energy Efficiency and Capital Improvements: Advances in technology and construction techniques enable our schools to be healthier, safer, more accessible and more energy efficient than ever before.  This not only benefits the students, teachers and administrators who occupy school buildings every day, but also benefit utility rate payers and the community at large.   Public schools are able to finance these projects with their local tax levy authority coupled with state building aid.  Religious and independent students, teachers and administrators are no less deserving of the highest quality facilities, yet these schools do not have the same means to finance such projects.  We urge you to appropriate seed money that would enable religious and independent schools to initiate these worthy projects.

Academic Intervention Services:  Currently only $922,000 is appropriated annually to independent and religious schools to implement the Academic Intervention Services (AIS) regulations promulgated by the Board of Regents – far below the $20 million that is needed.  Without adequate funding now, these at-risk children may easily fall behind even more – thus requiring more expensive academic interventions later.  AIS funding should be increased so that, like public schools, our schools are able to provide these services to our children who are most in need.

TransportationNext to their ability to afford tuition, the second most common challenge faced by parents in enrolling their children in religious or independent schools is their ability to have their children transported to school.  When parents are denied their choice of a religious or an independent school because transportation services are not available, are unreasonable or are unreliable, the burden on taxpayers increases as more of these children are enrolled in public schools.  It makes financial sense to enable more parents to enroll their children in religious and independent schools and thus we strongly urge the following: (1) Restore 90 percent state reimbursement of school district costs of transporting religious and independent school students; (2) increase the maximum distance school districts are required to transport children to school from 15 to 25 miles; (3) allow parents the option to pay for the cost of transportation beyond 25 miles; (4) ensure that transportation is provided for schools with disparate schedules and calendars – and not denied to religious and independent schools when public schools are closed or when they make mid-year calendar changes; and (5) require small city school districts to transport children up to the maximum mileage limit rather than city limits.

Teacher Training and MentoringThe Regents have mandated 87.5 hours of continuing education every five years for certified teachers employed by independent and religious schools.  In addition, the regulations of the Board of Regents require new teachers to obtain a mentoring experience in their first year of employment.  Despite the difficult fiscal situation, it is imperative that we provide the means for all teachers to obtain and maintain the highest level of professional competence.  We urge you to include $10 million in Mandated Services Aid to reimburse independent and religious schools for their expenses in providing the mandated continuing education to certified teachers and $5 million in funding to reimburse schools for their expenses in mentoring new teachers.

Learning Technology Grants: The Governor proposes $3.3 million for Learning Technology grants.  The limited funding for this valuable program, however, serves only 50 school districts along with their independent and religious school partners.  We strongly urge you to increase the appropriation to a level sufficient to enable all needy schools to benefit from this program.


Testimony re: A.1771 Markey

Public Hearing Testimony

 Submitted by the New York State Catholic Conference

 to the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes

Re: A.1771 (Markey)

Assembly Hearing Room
250 Broadway, 19th Floor, Room 1923

New York, New York

March 8, 2013

The protection of children is the hallmark of a civil society. Respect for the dignity of every person and the sanctity of life imposes a sacred moral obligation to protect the young and vulnerable as a precious treasure. Protection of children and young people from the crime and tragedy of sexual abuse is a fundamental component of this obligation.

For nearly a decade, reacting to widespread shock and revulsion at past and present sexual abuse of minors in schools, colleges, churches and public facilities, the New York State Legislature has considered the most effective ways to ensure the protection of children. More


2013-14 Education Budget testimony

Testimony of the New York State Catholic Conference

 regarding the 2013 – 2014 Elementary and Secondary Education Budget

Presented by

James Cultrara

Director for Education 

Hearing Room B

Legislative Office Building

Albany, N.Y.

January 29, 2013

 

Introduction

Good afternoon.  Chairman DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, Chairman Flanagan, Chairwoman Nolan and honorable members, my name 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, I speak today on behalf of the administrators, teachers, parents and nearly a half million students enrolled in nearly 2,000 religious and independent schools across the state.

We are grateful for this opportunity to share our views regarding the education provisions outlined in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2013-2014 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


Testimony of the NYS Coalition for Independent & Religious Schools regarding the 2012-13 Elementary & Secondary Education Budget

Presented by Rabbi David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel of America & James Cultrara, NYS Catholic Conference

Albany, N.Y.
January 23, 2012

Introduction

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