Trick Or Treat?: The New York “Smart Schools Bond Act”

The master of New York politics, Governor Andrew Cuomo has done it again.  He has added a proposal to the November ballot for voters to vote on that is magical.  On the surface the $2 Billion Dollar bond sounds great for schools, children and parents since it provides ‘free’ money to school districts for technology upgrades and building classrooms for increased UPK students.  Underneath it is the mystery of how the money is supported, why ‘new’ classrooms are needed when decreased enrollment has and is causing schools to close, and why you’d get a loan of more than 5 years for technology that generally becomes obsolete in far less than 5 years?  Other questions include if districts have a choice in taking the money or not; and how and when they can then use it.

Albany seems to see the passage as a mere formality and Governor Cuomo is moving fast forward on organizing and spending the money.  One of the biggest purposes of the bond act is to support Common Core on-line testing that was slated to be already occuring but has had to be delayed…supposedly because schools couldn’t provide enough computer access.  Others would say that the ‘real’ issue was the software development, security and other aspects of the system were not designed properly.

Here are a couple of excerpts from a story on the bond originally written by  published in The Buffalo News on October 18, 2014 in a story titled New York State’s School Bond Act Draws A Muted Reaction:

The Cuomo administration has already floated, and put into the 2014 budget contingent upon the ballot item passing, district-by-district allotments for the funds. The allotments were based, in large part, on the school aid formula – used in the 2013-14 school year – that drives state aid to districts.

For Buffalo, it would mean up to $56 million could flow in the coming years for new computers, wireless Internet upgrades, pre-K classroom space, and high-tech school security measures. Other potential amounts locally include Kenmore-Tonawanda at $5 million, Lackawanna at $2.9 million, West Seneca at $4.2 million, Niagara Falls at $8.9 million. New York City schools would be eligible for $783 million.

The proposal worries some fiscal watchdogs. Some wonder how wise it is to add more borrowing by a state that is second in the nation in debt load. New Yorkers already shell out more than $6 billion a year paying the interest and principal of past state government borrowings….

…What the bond’s potential interest costs might be are difficult to predict, though one fiscal watchdog, E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, estimated the true cost of the $2 billion bond will be at least $500 million in interest.

“It is one of the most poorly conceived and wasteful bond acts in New York State history,” McMahon said.

Besides the school boards and superintendents, other players usually in the education funding fights in Albany are staying on the sidelines. “We haven’t taken a position,” said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, a left-leaning group that every year pushes for more state school aid, especially for economically ailing districts like Buffalo.

On the right, the state Conservative Party calls the borrowing plan short-sighted that relies on buying technology that will be outdated in five years. That, it says, creates an “irresponsible financial burden … on the very children the bond is supposed to help.”

So it is up to New York State voters.  We suggest you do a bit of reading on the plan and make your own choice if you are a New York State voter this year. It is worth your time!

The Smart Schools Bond Act will appear on the general election ballot State-wide on November 4, 2014. It will read:

“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?”


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Filed under Education, Education Reform

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