A bill was introduced in the City Council on Thursday, INT-1162-2023, proposing a feasibility study of providing up to $10,000 in tuition reimbursement for families who choose to send their children to private or parochial schools.
The bill was sponsored by the Common Sense Caucus, a bipartisan group of eight Councilmembers, including three being from Brooklyn: Kalman Yeger (CD-44), Ari Kagan (CD-47) and Inna Vernikov (CD-48).
Councilman Kagan says the proposed study will seek to help families afford the cost of educating their children while avoiding having to leave the city: “The study will help [us understand] why parents are taking away their children from public schools."
One former resident, Christine Toes moved to South Carolina in 2021, because she said she was unhappy with her son’s program for his dyslexia and ADHD at P.S. 58. She found a private school costing one-third of what many New York private schools charge and her son just won a lottery for a charter school for dyslexics.
“We are not moving back to New York,” Toes says. “It’s sad, I was a New Yorker for life. I never intended to leave! But we do everything we can for our kids.”
“I’m a big believer in merit-based education and parental choice," said Kagan. "Right now, it doesn’t exist. If a parent switches, the only choice they have to switch to are charter schools, but that’s the only option, because if they want to switch to private or religious schools, [the cost is] exorbitant.”
While Kagan acknowledges that many New Yorkers are leaving over the high cost of living, he explained this bill is only for the feasibility study. He adds INT-1162-2023 is neither a voucher nor an education tax.
In a statement, Councilwoman Vernikov says, “It’s a proactive step that’s trying to get ahead of the fact that we’re seeing declining enrollment in the public schools, which means more and more parents are paying for both public schools with their tax dollars and their new school. This situation will only grow in the coming years. It’s common sense to look into the feasibility of some type of reimbursement mechanism.”
The Brooklyn Diocese’s Superintendent of Catholic Schools in Brooklyn and Queens, Kevin McCormack, welcomes the idea. “We believe a plan like this could aid parents and make it possible for families to stay in New York City. We welcome an opportunity to collaborate in this process.”
Still, the bill has its critics: David C. Bloomfield, professor of Education Leadership, Law & Policy at Brooklyn College & The CUNY Graduate Center, says, “This frivolous legislation is going nowhere except the sponsors' campaign literature. Its aim is to curry favor with voters by proposing to subsidize mainly religious private schools, at odds with the New York State Constitution and the needs of the majority of New York City parents who depend on full funding of public schools.”
Although a public schools supporter, Midwood’s Mrs. Eng has grown frustrated. Since the pandemic, her daughter’s reading skills have regressed and the school staff looks overwhelmed. However, she thinks INT-1162-2023 is misguided.
“It will take away from the already struggling schools,” Mrs. Eng says. “There’s lots of models out there. Give parents a sense of agency and control. End mayoral control.”
District 21’s Tamari Gruszow’s views are in the middle. While she says her district’s schools are of poor quality with zoning problems, she is not supporting INT-1162-2023.
“Private schools are astronomically high,” Gruszow says. “How do you define disadvantaged? Doesn’t seem to include middle class families. There should be more money invested and evenly distributed in DOE schools.”
If the bill passes, both the Departments of Education and Finance will conduct the study over a one-year period before submitting a report to the mayor and City Council Speaker.