Proposition #3, Smart School Bond Act: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?

By | November 4, 2014

On the surface, a bond for new technology in the classroom sounds wonderful; however, there are some issues you may want to consider before voting yes:

From Ballotpedia

What is the Smart School Bond Act (Proposition 3):

The measure, upon voter approval, would authorize the state comptroller to issue and sell bonds up to the amount of $2 billion. The revenue received from the sale of such bonds would be used for projects related to the following:[1]

  • Purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.
  • Constructing and modernizing facilities to accommodate pre-kindergarten programs and replacing classroom trailers with permanent instructional space.
  • Installing high-tech security features in school buildings.

The New York City 2014 Voter Guide included arguments in favor and in opposition to Proposal 3. The following is the guide’s argument in favor:

  • The proposed bond issue would help our children develop the technological literacy that will prepare them to get jobs in this economy.
  • The proposed bond issue would improve facilities for pre-kindergarten programs and provide long-needed replacements for trailers now used as classrooms.
  • We need funding for high-tech infrastructure improvements including wireless connectivity systems for schools and communities and high-tech security systems in schools.[6]

Why many are VOTING NO:

“But 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.”

*devices bought with the money would be paid for over eight years, essentially paying off a debt for technology that would be long out-dated

*the purpose is to pay for technology that would be used to comply with PARCC exams which eventually will all be done on computer

*The Empire Center has estimated the state’s yearly payments on the bond would be about $130 million

 

Arguments

The New York City 2014 Voter Guide included arguments in favor and in opposition to Proposal 3. The following is the guide’s argument in opposition:

  • The state has too much debt already; this $2 billion bond sale would cause the state to go even deeper into debt.
  • If the state is going to issue new bonds, it should be to repair or replace aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, protection of our drinking water, and/or sewer upgrades.
  • Bonds should only be used to fund long-term projects that will maintain their value for the duration of the borrowing, not for computer equipment which could become obsolete before the bonds are paid off.
  • Even if equipment is paid for, school districts will be forced to allocate money in their already tight budgets to hire skilled staff to run and maintain it.[6]

E.J. McMahon, President of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, called the bond a “boondoggle” and said there were better ways to fund school technology upgrades. He argued:

Ignore the spin. Even New Yorkers inclined to write a blank check for education should think long and hard before they say “yes” to Prop 3.To start with, New York’s state and local debt burden is already enormous, totaling more than $17,000 per resident.Passage of this bond proposition would push the state government closer to its statutory debt ceiling — even as Albany struggles to fill funding gaps in long-term capital plans for basic infrastructure like mass transit, roads and bridges.And while bridges and subways undeniably are long-term investments, buying computers would be a wasteful use of the state’s increasingly scarce capital-bonding capacity.

To justify bonding, the law implementing Proposal 3 assumes that classroom technology financed with school-bond funds will have a “probable life” of eight years…

And even under that unlikely assumption, most of the nifty smart boards, iPads, laptops and other devices purchased under the bond act will be worn out or obsolete long before the debt is paid off — even if the bonds are issued for relatively short average durations of 10 to 15 years…

Most striking is that none of New York’s many public-school-advocacy groups, from school boards to teachers unions, had identified classroom technology as a funding priority before the “smart schools” bond scheme first popped up, seemingly out of nowhere, in Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State speech in January.

The annual payments on $2 billion in bonds could ultimately come to more than $130 million a year. A far better way to “equalize opportunities to learn” would be to spend that money on added annual aid to public and charter schools serving the state’s neediest children. [6]

—E.J. McMahon[14]

 

Nicholas Tampio, Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, encouraged “other parents and concerned citizens to vote no on the Smart Schools Bond Act.” He connected Proposal 3 to Common Core:

How does this relate to the Common Core? New York is currently preparing to administer the Common Core-based PARCC tests. As part of the Race to the Top application, New York committed to administering the tests to students at the same time on computers. The costs of purchasing the computer and bandwidth to take these tests places a financial burden on school districts. This bond relieves that burden in the short-term, which may explain why some superintendents are grateful for the relief it brings.But 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.The Smart Schools Bond also consumes resources that could be spent on other educational endeavors. Take class size. There is an extensive literature on how smaller classes leads to higher test scores, better grades, fewer discipline problems, higher graduation rates, and the formation of character traits such as persistence, motivation, and self-esteem. Yet there is overcrowding in all 32 New York City school districts. As school districts scramble to pay the technology costs required to administer the PARCC exams with only partial compensation by the Smart Schools Bond, class sizes will rise throughout the state.As a parent, I would rather my children have a personal connection with a great teacher than be warehoused in a classroom dedicated to preparing for online Common Core-based tests. [6]
—Nicholas Tampio[15]

 

Other arguments against Proposal 3 include:*

*Citizen’s Budget Commission’s Vice President Elizabeth Lynam compared issuing bonds for school technology to taking a loan for a vacation. She said, “It’s OK to borrow money to purchase a house and you pay that back over 30 years because the house is going to last you 30 years. It’s not OK to borrow typically in your personal life for a vacation because that’s a short term benefit and you’re going to be paying it back for many years to come.”[16]

*According to Diane Ravitch, “Bond issues should be used for construction and renovation, for costs that will last over many years, even decades, not for technology, which is fast-changing and must be replaced and serviced.”

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