Friday, October 24, 2014

A look at Proposal 3 – Smart Schools funding

In his State of the State Address this past January, Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a concept called “Smart Schools”, a program through which school districts could improve their technologies and communication infrastructure in order to meet the ever-changing demands of education and job preparedness when it comes to twenty-first century gadgetry.

It was his most specific reference in regard to education as all other educational matters discussed during the speech were nebulous both in terms of scale and funding. At the time, he earmarked $2 billion in funding to be distributed to the schools. His steadfast focus on this idea continued through the year, as he had a commission created and empowered by spring which reached out to administrators in the ensuing months and then held symposiums throughout the state this fall.

In the final development of the Smart Schools program it was determined that this money would be specifically expended on capital projects related to the design, planning, site acquisition, demolition, construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or acquisition or installation of equipment for the following types of projects: To acquire learning technology equipment or facilities including, but not limited to, interactive whiteboards, computer servers, and desktop, laptop, and tablet computers; To install high-speed broadband or wireless internet connectivity for schools and communities; To construct, enhance, and modernize educational facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs and provide instructional space to replace transportable classroom units; and To install high-tech security features in school buildings and on school campuses.

Such a major undertaking will cost every bit of that $2 billion and, as many have said, likely more in the years that follow. The initial amount has already been apportioned and here is what Niagara County’s school districts will be receiving if the proposal were to be passed:

Barker: $596,160
Lewiston-Porter: $1,354,745
Lockport: $4,274,931
Newfane: $1,670,935
Niagara Falls: $8,865,240
Niagara-Wheatfield: $2,707,858
North Tonawanda: $3,332,873
Royalton-Hartland: $1,197,557
Starpoint: $1,591,338
Wilson: $1,158,784

As zealous as Cuomo’s agenda is, it’s using money that New York State doesn’t have. In order to make it work, the state would have to borrow the $2 billion. Under the State Constitution, general obligation bonds must be approved by the voters.

So, that is how we’ve come to Proposal 3 on the November ballot, which reads as follows:

“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?"

The last time a bond came before voters was 9 years ago when 55% of New Yorkers approved the $2.9 billion Renew and Rebuild Transportation Bond Act, half of which went to NYS Department of Transportation projects across the state and the other half which went to Metropolitan Transportation Authority projects in the New York City metro area.

If an almost $3 billion bond that pitted upstate against downstate in 2005 passed, there’s a considerable likelihood that a mostly non-controversial matter such as schoolroom technology will garner two-thirds favor. But, at the same time, the vote for the Smart Schools bond could see a vote as close as 2005’s – in either direction, though – since many New Yorkers are becoming debt-averse as an outcome of the Great Recession.

The decision is entirely up to you. Do you want to improve the schoolroom technologies of our youth in hopes of turning around an underperforming educational system or do you want to forgo that potential gamble knowing that once they become adults they will have to pay the debt we undertake now?            

No comments: