By Vania Andre
Brooklyn Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte came under intense criticism from a segment of the Jewish community this past week after a radio interview, where she voiced her fierce opposition for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education tax credit.
“Bichotte inflamed the Orthodox community by referring to Jews as ‘you guys’ complaining about ‘Jewish’ money behind the tax credit effort,” according to a statement placed on defeatbichotte.com. The website, defeatbichotte.com, was created by a newly-formed organization seeking the Assemblywoman’s demise. Bichotte later clarified the reference to “you guys” was in regards to “2 -3 people” who had been harassing her about the tax credit since last year.
In the days following Bichotte’s interview with Leon Goldenberg, on the ‘Community Matters’ radio program, advocates of the Parental Choice in Education Act, launched political action committee “Defeat Bichotte PAC” aimed at “ensuring the defeat of Rodneyse Bichotte.”
The governor’s proposed bill would provide tax credits to low-income families that send their children to nonpublic schools, and philanthropists who make donations to schools and education programs. Bichotte, however, doesn’t think the bill goes far enough to address the true needs of her constituents.
“The tax credit is a wealthy donor giveaway that would drain public funds to support a few rich private and parochial schools,” Bichotte’s office said in a statement.
The freshman assemblywoman, whose district includes Flatbush, Ditmas Park, East Flatbush and Midwood, argues the tax credit indirectly “attempts” to support education by offering a tax incentive for education donations made by wealthy companies and individuals.
“Bichotte will not stand up for you!” the Defeat Bichotte PAC said, “and is deliberately sabotaging much-needed charitable donations to preK-12th grade scholarship funds.” Critics have also accused Bichotte of creating a divide in the community between blacks and the Jewish community.
“It’s all propaganda,” Bichotte said. “My priority is to educate and protect my constituents, who are being misinformed and brainwashed into thinking that feeding the pockets of wealthy philanthropists will provide relief to their private institutions.”
“That’s incorrect,” she said. Parents would have no control on whether their schools would be selected to receive these education investments, nor would it guarantee a relief on their tuition.
Under the governor’s bill, individuals who make donations for education programs and scholarship funds will receive a 75 percent tax break. Critics of the bill argue the flaw with the stipulation is that the donors could “cherry pick” which institutions to fund, potentially leaving a large group of children underserved.
“Parents must hope that incentive will spur a large corporation or philanthropist to contribute to their children’s school-and then hope that contribution results in a tuition reduction.”
The bill does not guarantee that parents would be directly impacted by the donated funds. The donations “may not pay for tuition at all, but end up funding other expenses” such as salaries and administrative costs.
A suitable alternative to the bill for Bichotte is one that she co-sponsored earlier in the year, which provides the same tax credits to families. However, does away with the $60,000 income limit and “puts the focus strictly on providing a relief per child.”
Bichotte’s bill would allow parents to claim school related expenses such as afterschool programs, day cares, nursery and private education.
“Let’s face it, there have been many who have served in legislation for years before me and have not been able to even have the topic of a tax credit on the radar; and yet, I, who started only a few months ago is blamed for the history and controversy around this bill,” Bichotte said about the criticism she faced because of her stance. “That’s a lot of power for some to impose on me.”