Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014

The New York Bonds for School Technology Act, Proposal 3 (or Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014) was proposed by Governor Cuomo in his State of the State address in January 2014 and was approved by the legislature in the Governor’s 2014-2015 state budget with the press release stating:

The Budget includes a $2 billion general obligation bond act. Bond proceeds will fund enhanced education technology in schools, with eligible projects including infrastructure improvements to bring high-speed broadband to schools and communities in their school district and the purchase of classroom technology for use by students. Additionally, Smart Schools will enable long-term investments in full-day pre-kindergarten through the construction of new pre-kindergarten classroom space, replace classroom trailers with permanent classroom space and make investments in high-tech school safety projects.
Now the bond act must be approved by the New York State voters on November 4, 2014 to take effect.  The ballot text as it will appear on the November 4 ballot reads:

The SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014

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?

If the Smart Schools Bond Act is approved by voters, Kingston City School District will receive approximately 5.3 million dollars that could be used to purchase computers, servers, white boards, make infrastructure upgrades for broadband, security or preK expansion.  Dr. Padalino has stated that Kingston does not need construction for preK because, while the preK program at George Washington is full, the preK program a JFK is not.  However if the bond act were to pass, the KCSD board of education and administration could put the money to good use within the confines of what is allowed to be done with the money.

Since the Smart Schools Bond Act was announced as part of the budget package, several concerns have been raised causing parents and community members around the state to question whether they should support the bond act by voting yes in November.

On April 17 Governor Cuomo announced the formation of a three-person Smart Schools Commission intended to make recommendations on how districts should use the money they receive from the bond act.  Commission member Constance Evelyn, superintendent of the Auburn School District in Cayuga County said in support of the bond act,

There is a stark difference between a classroom outfitted with up to date, advanced technology, and one without. As we prepare our students to compete and find jobs in an economy that places high value on technical literacy, it is of vital importance that all our children have access to the classrooms where they can develop these skills. – Cuomo announces commission for school bond act, lohud April 17, 2014
However Assemblyman Bill Nojay focused on the tax dollars.
I’m not aware that this panel is anything other than a sort of a gimmicky Cuomo move, they’re not really going to decide where the money is spent.  The problem with the Smart Schools Bond Act is we already have more debt in New York state than we can reasonably expect taxpayers to pay for the next 20 to 30 years. – Cuomo announces commission for school bond act, lohud April 17, 2014

In addition to Constance Evelyn and Geoffrey Canada, president and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Governor Cuomo appointed Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of of Google to the Smart Schools Commission.  Having the head of a major technology company that could significantly benefit from the situation as one of the three committee advisers leads to some serious questions of propriety as pointed out by Consumer Watchdog in their formal complaint about the matter.

Nicholas Tampio is concerned about the Schmidt/Google relationship but even more so that the constituents in the local districts (parents, teachers, students and other stakeholders) will not really have control over how they spend the money the district receives because plans must be approved by the Smart Schools review board (not the Smart Schools commission as it turns out) which consists of the chancellor of SUNY Nancy Zimpher, the Director of Budget Robert Megna, and the Commissioner of Education John King.

On Nov. 4, New Yorkers will have a chance to vote on the Smart Schools Bond Act. This bond has little to do with education and more to do with Gov. Andrew Cuomo giving a gift to the tech industry and circumventing political opposition to the Common Core. – Smart Schools Bond a Bad Investment, Nicholas Tampio, lohud September 2, 2014

Also Common Core rears its ugly head in this picture.  New York is going to have to start administering the Common Core-based PARCC tests soon, per our Race to the Top application, and that means the school districts have to have the necessary technology to administer the tests to the students all at the same time.  This bond act will help to provide the necessary technology in the short term but as Tampio points out,

… make no mistake: This bond helps cement the Common Core in New York schools. The technology makes possible the Common Core tests, and the smart schools review board is made up of three individuals who support the Common Core. – Nicholas Tampio

Finally this bond will take money from our taxes that could be spent on other things.  Tampio mentions smaller class size as an educational endeavor he would prefer to see the money spent on.  Senator Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman Robert Sweeney introduced the Clean Air/Clean Water/Green Jobs Bond Act of 2014 which is a $5 billion package (details here) but only one bond act per year is possible and since Governor Cuomo included the Smart Schools Bond Act in the budget, the environmental bond isn’t even an option.  I don’t know that I agree with all of the things in the environmental bond but as I think about the hole in Washington Avenue (not sure if that would be eligible or not), I can easily imagine how communities would need the money.  Perhaps we need to not have a bond this year to allow tax payers the opportunity to prepare for the environmental bond, or some portion of it, next year?

E. J. McMahon from the Empire Center questions whether a bond act is appropriate for technology which gets old so quickly and feels that the state already gives school districts money for technology.  McMahon appears in this news video (September 8, 2014) from Time Warner Cable along with a summary of several other view points including Governor Cuomo’s comments on the bond act.  He has the following to say about the Clean Air/Clean Water/Green Jobs Bond Act:

Sewer and infrastructure upgrades are a significant expense faced by many municipalities, including some that still directly discharge waste into the Hudson River during storms. Beaches in communities along Lake Erie are regularly closed during summer months because of sewer discharge into the water. Old pipes, decaying electrical systems and other infrastructure problems have stalled private development in many upstate cities, McMahon said.

While McMahon said he didn’t support the whole environmental bond, the $2 billion directed toward infrastructure is increasingly necessary, but gets little notice during an election year.

“It’s the non-sexy, really important thing that seems like it won’t happen while we’re paying for iPads and technology for schools,” he said.

Cuomo’s school bond would stall environmental measure, Capital New York January 9, 2014

Please carefully consider the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014 before you walk into the voting booth on November 4, 2014 and determine whether it is how you want your tax dollars spent in the coming years.