Editorial: State’s school tech initiative much too vague

| Poughkeepsie Journal

The state’s intention to have voters approve $2 billion in spending for school technology is not a terrible idea, but the prep work has been abysmal. Voters should reject this idea and force the state to come back with a better, more tangible plan.

Indeed, Proposition 3 is incredibly vague, and the state has not done its due diligence.

If approved, the state would be allowed to amass more debt, which is a big problem for New York already, to fund technology upgrades in schools, secure space for prekindergarten classrooms and boost security systems.

But, unlike previous bond acts that have supported transportation and the environment, the state has no real rundown of how the money would be spent in specific regions of the state; there is no tangible “priority list” to help voters determine whether this money will be used effectively. To some degree, the state will rely on the convoluted state-aid formula for education to make these determinations. There is no guarantee this money will be used where it is most needed, such as in “high-needs” districts where the digital divide is greatest.

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.

Proposition 3, the Smart Schools Bond Act of 2014, has a sweet, alluring title, and, conceptually, it has a lot of appeal. There also is something to be said for giving school districts a chance to get more resources without raising property taxes.

But until the state comes back with more specific plans, the voters should say “no,” and lawmakers should continue to deal with this funding, as it has been, through the regular budget cycle.

© 2014 Poughkeepsie Journal