School Technology Bond Would Add $2B to New York Budget

A school technology bond act worth $2 billion will be on the ballot in New York this November.

“People will see it as free money for their schools,” said Michael Borges, executive director of the New York State Association of School Business Officials. “Who is going to run away from money?”

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Smart Schools Bond Act” will be voted on publicly in the upcoming election on November 4.

Money will come from bonds issued by the state that must be paid off.

New York State schools will each receive a portion of the money, making a tax hike in local property taxes unnecessary.

The money can be used for technology purposes within the schools, including equipment, high-speed internet connections and Wi-Fi, and the modernization of facilities for pre-kindergarten programs.

While none are expected to oppose the proposition, some school business officials worry about schools using the funds for technology that will quickly become outdated.  There is also worry about the act creating problems for future types of aid to the education system within the state.

Cuomo has set up a “Smart Schools Commission” which will advise districts on the best way to spend the money received.  Schools will then make the final decision through competitive bidding.  Criteria for local spending will come through a state review board.

Regent Harry Philips stated he supports the proposal, so long as larger portions of the money goes to those schools who need the most help.

“The digital divide is growing,” he said.

The state budget shows exactly how much each district will gain.  Seventeen districts are slated to receive more than $1 million each.

Yonkers school district is expected to benefit the most from the funding, getting almost $24 million for its 27,000 students.  The district is one of the oldest and most in need of funding in the country, reports Gary Stern for Lohud.

“Given the constraints of the district’s current budget, this funding would greatly enhance the district’s efforts to increase technological capacity and transform classrooms,” Yonkers school Superintendent Michael Yazurlo said.

Government-reform advocates are questioning the language used on the ballot proposal.

The proposal says the borrowed money will be used to “provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space, and to install high-tech smart security features in schools.”

Vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission Elizabeth Lynam is calling the wording “rosy” and “positively phrased”.

Proposal Number 3 states:

The SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014, as set forth in section one of part B of chapter 56 of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds of up to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space, and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014 be approved?

Any legal questioning of the reform must be submitted by August 15.

While favorability for Cuomo among voters has dropped to 58% this month from its high of 76% in January of 2012, 53% of voters were found to have never heard of his opponent, Rob Astorino.