Who could be against “smart schools”?
The unsurprising answer: not nearly enough New Yorkers to defeat Proposal 3 on yesterday’s statewide ballot, which authorizes $2 billion in state borrowing to finance local school district purchases of computers and other classroom technology; expand schools’ high-speed and wireless Internet capacity; install “high-tech security features”; and build new classrooms for pre-kindergarten programs.
There are high-priority needs in New York State, not the least of which is repairing roads and bridges, that may be worth borrowing for. Sinking the state even deeper into debt to fund like-to-have items is a mistake.
E.J. McMahon, president of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy and a Manhattan Institute senior fellow, and others also rightly question whether long-term bonds are appropriate for such upgrades, considering the rapid change of technology. Moreover, while the money would allow for districts to construct and/or make additions to pre-K facilities, it doesn't, of course, provide the ongoing operating costs to staff such noble initiatives.
Indeed, Proposition 3 is incredibly vague, and the state has not done its due diligence.
Critics said the bond act would incur debt for years after the equipment becomes obsolete and new equipment needs to be purchased.
"New York should think hard before supporting this costly and wasteful proposal," said E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank.
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.
In New York, the proposal is drawing criticism from those who say the state shouldn’t use scarce capital-financing capacity for equipment that may become obsolete or may not be used properly because of lack of training. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for New York State Policy in Albany, a research group that advocates less government spending, said not every school district needs the money.
“You’re putting cash on the table in front of bureaucrats saying use it or lose it, whether they need it or not,” McMahon said.
“The bond act ultimately isn’t about the desirability of classroom technology or pre-K expansions — although both are certainly debatable,” E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center said in a statement he issued Monday. “The core issue raised by Proposal 3 is whether a state general obligation bond issue, even one with a relatively short ‘weighted average’ duration of 10 to 20 years, is the best way of paying for a combination of short-lived tech and long-lived buildings, when existing annual state aid categories already subsidize both without testing the state’s bond limits.”