“Smart” sounded good to 62%

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

bal-pen3Who could be against “smart schools”? 

The 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. 

The “Smart Schools Bond Act” emerged out of the blue in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address in January and was passed with little debate as part of the 2014-15 budget. Although the proposal was never embraced by the Board of Regents or by major public education groups, it was a centerpiece of Cuomo’s K-12 education agenda.

In the final weeks of the general election campaign, the state Democratic Committee sent out a statewide mailing promoting a “yes” vote on Proposal 3, which was also mentioned in at least one of the governor’s campaign commercials.  Just last week, it was disclosed that New York State United Teachers union had committed $200,000 to its own push for support of the bond proposal.

On the other side, the Empire Center led the way in calling for a “no” vote, explaining our position in articles and interviews linked on this website.  The Citizens Budget Commission issued a strong memo taking the same position.  At least 19 newspapers — including all of the state’s largest dailies except The New York Times (which had nothing to say on the subject) – published editorials in opposition to Proposal 3.

However, in the absence of a funded advertising campaign urging a “no” vote, the positive spin embedded in the ballot language apparently was enough to push Proposal 3 to passage by a 62-38 margin. (The borrowing was rejected in 20 out of 62 counties, all upstate.)

As a result of yesterday’s vote:

  • New York State is likely to bump up against its statutory debt cap in three years, even though it has enormous infrastructure needs for which no source of financing has been clearly identified.
  • While rural and suburban school districts decide whether new technology is really among their priorities, New York City won’t hesitate to cash in on its $730 million share of the bond act to pay for pre-kindergarten space and portable classroom replacements.  (By the way, the city has a higher bond rating and much more borrowing capacity than the state, and school construction in the city is already heavily subsidized by state building aid.)

Now that the bond issue has been passed, the Empire Center will be monitoring its implementation.

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- E.J. McMahon is the Research Director at the Empire Center for Public Policy.