The evolving $2 billion education bond

by David Lombardo |  | NY Torch

The seemingly slapdash nature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $2 billion education bond was reinforced during Tuesday’s budget address when the gambit got a makeover.

Unveiled by the governor two weeks ago during the State of the State address as an initiative to provide “the technology of tomorrow today,” the bond will be stretched further with an undetermined portion now repurposed for the construction of new prekindergarten classrooms. This latest twist appears to be driven by Cuomo’s push for full-day pre-k across the state, which (as he acknowledged) will cause an influx of students that some school districts can’t currently accommodate.

Via the proposed bond, the state would be borrowing to cover expenditures heretofore subsidized out of the state’s annual operating budget in the form of school aid, including funds dedicated for building and “hardware and technology.” Purposes would include the acquisition of computers, tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards and high-speed broadband installation, as well as classroom construction to accommodate pre-k programs.

The “hardware and technology” portion of state aid is $37.6 million for the current fiscal year and would be slightly increased to $38.6 million in Cuomo’s proposed budget, according to documents on the state Division of Budget website.

Building aid — a recurring budgetary subsidy for bonds issued at the local level — is the state’s traditional means of helping schools build new classrooms. Building aid was $2.71 billion in 2012-13, $2.72 billion this fiscal year and bumped to $2.83 in Cuomo’s proposed budget.

By opting not to fund the Smart Schools agenda from the operating budget, the state will have to grow its debt and incur interest payments that make the expenditures more costly. In the case of technology purchases, which will fall under eight-year bonds, the items will likely be outdated long before the state has paid for them. (Does anyone want a first-generation iPad from four years ago?).

If the bond is approved in November, districts will have to submit proposals in order to receive any of the money. Whether a district’s plan is worthy of receiving funding will be determined by the “Smart Schools Review Board,” comprised of “the chancellor of the State University chancellor, the state budget director and the state education commissioner, “or there respective designees.”

But districts will likely have limited flexibilty with their proposals since Cuomo’s budget has already allocated each district’s portion of the money and plans are supposed to be undertaken with the “district’s smart schools allocation.” The bond language is silent on the question of whether districts will be expected to chip in for these projects.