By ARIEL HERNANDEZ
With pundits and pollsters talking about the coming “blue wave” in November, where Democrats are expected to score big wins in federal and state elections, there has been a lot of talk about the impact it could have in New York. Currently, Republicans’ last vestige of power is in the state Senate chamber, where they hold a narrow majority.
If Democrats take back control of the chamber, it could mean a lot of progressive pieces of legislation could be implemented in early 2019. It could also mean that some constituencies that have benefited from close alliances to the Republican-controlled state Senate could see changes.
One such group is religious schools, which have been protected from some policies the state’s powerful teachers unions have advocated for years. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, white Catholics are turning to the Republican party as the Democratic party has become more ethnically diverse.
In New York, Republican lawmakers have a long history of being sensitive to education issues put forth by religious leaders, supporting faith-based schools. Democrats have instead focused more on supporting public schools and building a strong political alliance with unions like the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
Dennis Poust, director of Communications of the New York City Catholic Conference, told the Queens Tribune that the group encountered a few Democratic politicians who were willing to engage in conversation and act on some Catholic-school issues.
“Assemblyman Michael Cusick [D-Staten Island] carried the ball for us,” said Poust.
Cusick, who served on the Staten Island Board of Directors of the Catholic Youth Organization prior to becoming an assemblyman, was instrumental in restoring the Comprehensive Attendance Policy (CAP), which ensured that religious schools would be reimbursed for their CAP costs. CAP is a formula that was originally created in 2002 to provide financial aid based on the attendance of the students, teachers and administration of Catholic schools.
“This is a commonsense measure that uses a straightforward formula for reimbursement to independent and religious schools.” said Cusick. “These institutions need to be reimbursed fully for costs they incur in complying with state mandates.”
For years, Catholic schools have been trying to push for tax breaks for parents who pay tuition.
Currently in New York State, the IRS does not allow education expenses for grades K-12 to be deducted on a federal tax return. According to the IRS, tuition for preschool and grades K-12 is a personal expense, a belief to which the Democratic Party also subscribes.
“There was a time where we had Democratic support for tax relief, but in terms of helping parents afford Catholic and religious schools, there has always been more momentum on the Republican side,” said Poust.
Poust said the conference can work with the Democratic party on other issues, such as funding for mandated services like nursing services and school-safety initiatives.
However, he indicated that it is “not inevitable” that Democrats will regain control of the Senate.
“There’s a possibility that the Republicans can hold their majority,” said Poust. “If they don’t hold it, certainly we’ll see that there are a number of issues we can work with the Democrats on.”
If the Democrats take over, Poust believes Brooklyn state Sen. Simcha Felder — a Democrat who currently aligns with Republicans — would likely go back to the party. This would benefit the Catholic Conference because Felder has always taken a strong position on religious issues.
Poust, who called the Catholic Conference “politically homeless” because it doesn’t side with any party, said it often tells parents to go to their local politicians regardless of their political affiliation because “elected officials serve their constituents, and in the city of New York there is a big constituency of Catholic-school families.”
The Queens Tribune reached out to the New York Archdiocese, which declined to comment.
The Tribune also reached out to the UFT but did not get a response in time for press.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.