Our 8.25 percent sales tax on clothing makes New Jersey into a shopping magnet. Since they have no such tax across the river, everyone knows there is essentially a sale every time you make the trip. That hurts our businesses, draining an estimated $700 million in clothing purchases, and $3.5 billion in overall sales, from the city every year. And when our businesses suffer, so do the people of the city. If that money stayed here -- if we dropped the tax for good -- New York City would gain 17,000 jobs.
The sales tax on apparel is the very definition of a regressive tax. Middle and low income families must devote a much higher percentage of their incomes to buying clothing, up to 12 percent per year for our poorest families. Keeping a high tax on clothing purchases penalizes them.
When we dropped the tax this past January, it was a stunning success for both shoppers and business owners. We plan to drop the tax again next fall, and then permanently in 1999. But for now, I hope you enjoy the week and get what you need to send your children back to school.
This is a particularly exciting time for our public schools. The last two school years have marked an important turning point, and now our schools are in the midst of a resurgence, and building momentum. Last year, reading scores improved in every one of the City's 32 community school districts, and students began to show real signs of progress. And with 22,735 seats added this year, students will be able to settle in and start learning on the very first day of school.
Thanks to the historic school governance reform that we finally won in Albany last year after decades of failed attempts to overhaul the school system, the city finally has the opportunity to manage the schools, to move toward a model with enhanced school-based autonomy and increased accountability. Chancellor Rudy Crew has more power to supervise principals and superintendents and ensure that they are held accountable for their performance. He has demonstrated that he is serious about holding himself, students, and everyone in between to higher standards.
Everything we do to better New York City schools -- every change we make and every dollar we spend -- must impact students in their classrooms.
That is why we have initiated Project Read, a $125 million intensive literacy education program focused on all elementary schools, and especially on the ones with the lowest reading scores. With these funds, we give teachers and principals substantial authority to design programs that serve their students best. And we expect results: if a school fails to improve its reading scores, it will not be entitled to continue participating in the program.
Project Read is the centerpiece of a multifaceted campaign to improve reading skills. Our administration, in conjunction with the New York City Housing Authority and the Board of Education, has also started and expanded a program called Partners in Reading, which offers intensive after-school instruction to over 5,000 children at 92 housing authority community centers around the city.
And another program, called Love to Read, focuses private resources on getting students interested in books. As part of this campaign, all third graders will be able to take home their own books at the end of the school year, and sponsors around the city will adopt third grade classroom bookshelves to start 25-book starter libraries. This program takes into account the crucial, central role of parents and communities in fostering reading skills in our children.
As we enter the 21st century, we cannot neglect the essential importance of computer literacy to our children's futures. That is why we have proposed Project Smart Schools to put an average of four computers and a printer in every sixth, seventh, and eighth grade classroom by mid-1998, and bring computer technology to every public school classroom by the year 2000.
And Project Arts, a $25 million initiative, is designed to help children grow up to become well-rounded, intelligent, and imaginative human beings. When people respect creativity in others and to harness it in themselves, all of society is enriched. New York City would not be the capital of the world if not for its rich and vibrant cultural life.
I am confident that between our efforts, the commitment of Chancellor Crew, the work of our dedicated faculty including thousands of wonderful teachers, and the support of concerned parents, our schools and our students will excel. The future of the city depends on it.