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‘First Step’ Toward Education Credit

‘First Step’ Toward Education Credit

It wasn’t quite what they were pushing for, but the coalition seeking a tax cut for parents of private school students is welcoming the break that will put $330 per child back in parents’ pockets next year.

The break will apply to all families earning under $110,000 with school-age children, in a plan negotiated by both houses of the Legislature.

"This is an important first step in empowering families to make the educational choices they want for their kids," said Nathan Diament, director of public policy for the Orthodox Union.

Some may see little difference between an education credit and a credit for school-age children, but semantics are important. Backers of the measure were hoping for an endorsement of the concept of returning funds to taxpaying parents who don’t use the public school system.

That idea appealed to outgoing Gov. George Pataki, whose plan would have been more generous for some, providing $500 per student for education expenses, but with a lower income cap.

The state’s teachers unions spent millions lobbying against that proposal, likening it to voucher programs that have been judged unconstitutional in other states. Their campaign included taking out full-page ads in Jewish newspapers during Passover week to thank Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for "fighting to protect public education."

Pataki vetoed the legislature’s bill, but the Assembly and Senate easily overrode the block.

"Enactment of the credit is a good foundation we look forward to building on in the future," said Elliot Gibber, president of TEACH NYS, the coalition that lobbied for the tax break, in a statement.

In future budgets, if the economy is strong, so will be lobbying efforts to increase the amount and to have it specifically earmarked for education, something the teachers and Silver ardently resisted.

"It’s disappointing that we missed an opportunity to encourage parents to invest in their children’s education," said Michael Fragin, an executive assistant to the governor.

The primary impetus for the education credit came from leaders of Brooklyn’s Sephardic Community Federation, who saw a perfect storm of political factors favoring their effort this year. Those factors included a healthy budget surplus; Pataki’s decision not to seek a fourth term and his likely presidential ambitions and the dire straits of the Catholic school system, whose leaders became fervent allies. This being an election year for state legislators couldn’t have hurt, either.

After a tenure that ranged from introducing a first-time candidate to the Jewish community to weathering a battle over circumcision rituals and public health, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Jewish liaison is leaving his post as commissioner of the Community Assistance Unit. Jonathan Greenspun has been named managing partner of Mercury Public Affairs, a lobbying and communications firm founded by former aides to Pataki with whom Greenspun worked in the governor’s New York City office prior to joining Bloomberg’s campaign in 2001. Greenspun declined to comment pending an official announcement from City Hall.

While it’s unclear who his successor at the Community Assistance Unit will be, the Jewish liaison duties are expected to fall on Fred Kreizman, who was recently promoted to assistant commissioner of Greenspun’s agency. Kreizman, who comes from a Carpathian family and speaks fluent Russian, has also been with Bloomberg since 2001.

Observers see Greenspun’s new move as smart for both sides. After observing a one-year moratorium, Greenspun will still have two more years to lobby his old bosses before they leave City Hall.

The tuition tax credit fight might claim a political casualty in Brighton Beach. Assemblywoman Adele Cohen, a Democrat, reportedly made some enemies when she refused to be lobbied on the issue by Jewish and Catholic visitors in Albany. Now Cohen, who survived a tough primary in 2004, tells the Daily News she may decide against running this year.

Already vying for the seat are Arkady Kagan, former editor of the Russian Forward, and Alec Brook-Krasny, founder and president of the Council of Jewish …migre Organizations.

COJECO’s legislative breakfast Tuesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage drew a huge crowd of pols and supporters. Brook-Krasny is telling people he’ll resign as soon as this week to devote his full attention to the race and avoid conflicts for the organization.

Line Items

The city’s plan to expand an underutilized public high school in Borough Park (which had the Orthodox community there up in arms earlier this year) is off the table, for now. No comment from Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, who negotiated the issue with community leaders. But Assemblyman Dov Hikind said "they went back to the drawing boards. The city really listened to the concerns of the community." Councilman Simcha Felder said "they agreed not to do anything for a year, and during this time we’ll be working with the Department of Education to come up with alternative uses for the property that will satisfy their needs as well as those of the community."
# As expected, the City Council voted overwhelmingly last week in favor of creating a historic preservation zone in the tony Fieldston area of Riverdale. Some residents claimed the designation would discriminate against large families, including the growing Orthodox community, who might want to expand their homes. They found no political support for that argument.
# City Council Speaker Christine Quinn had lunch with leaders of Agudath Israel of America last week to discuss the Orthodox group’s work. But gay rights, which openly lesbian Quinn champions and Agudah adamantly oppose, were not on the agenda, says David Zwiebel, the Orthodox group’s vice president for governmental affairs. "That didn’t come up," he said, adding that "there were no burning issues on the table. We meet with people in government all the time to acquaint them with some of the issues our community is concerned about."

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