Catholic Conference Testifies at Education Joint Budget Hearing


Catholic Conference Testifies at Education Joint Budget Hearing

January 29, 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis continues to wreak financial havoc on Catholic schools across the state, according James D. Cultrara, director for education of the NYS Catholic Conference and executive secretary of the NYS Council of Catholic School Superintendents, in testimony before a joint legislative hearing on the state Elementary and Secondary Education Budget on January 28.

Cultrara submitted written testimony and also testified live in the virtual Zoom legislative hearing. He noted that the pandemic was a major factor in the closing of more than 30 Catholic schools across the state last June.

“The financial hardship did not end with the close of the last school year,” Cultrara said in the written testimony. “Re-registrations for the fall were dramatically lower, leaving administrators unsure of whether they could survive the next school year. As they prepared to reopen their schools for in-person instruction – under the strict health and educational requirements of the state – they were forced to bear the unanticipated costs of hiring additional nurses and other staff, installing physical barriers and signage, purchasing personal protective equipment, acquiring cleaning supplies, arranging for ongoing sanitizing throughout and between each day, installing or modifying air purification equipment, purchasing and training for additional technology related to remote learning, collecting and reporting data to the Department of Health on a daily basis – the list goes on and on.”

Cultrara said there is “every expectation” that the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic will continue to plague Catholic schools and tuition-paying families who support them.

He expressed gratitude to Gov. Cuomo for ensuring that reimbursement under the state Mandated Services Aid program would be held harmless against the cuts that would have occurred automatically as a result of the cancellation of state assessment testing due to the pandemic. However, he noted the budget cuts the program 2 percent at a time when Catholic schools can least afford it. He also urged the legislature to reject a proposal by the governor to cap the state’s liability under the program to the amount appropriated instead of reimbursing for “actual expenses,” which has been “the very essence of the Mandated Services Aid program, enacted in 1974.”

Cultrara, in the written testimony, also thanked the governor for maintaining existing levels of funding for STEM, Academic Intervention Services and health, safety and security.

Finally, Cultrara made a push for tuition assistance for families, noting 30 states have enacted such programs in one form or another and that Catholic school families save New York taxpayers $10 billion per year by opting out of the public school system while continuing to pay taxes for it.

“If our schools are to continue being a part of addressing New York inequality of resources and opportunities, we must work together to support the families who seek our schools,” he said.

Governor Cuomo released his Executive Budget on January 19, which is the framework for negotiation with the state legislature on a final budget, which is due by the April 1 start of the state fiscal year.

Full testimony is here: