A few weeks ago, I wrote this piece lambasting Governor Cuomo for bilking schools out of billions of dollars thereby depriving students of their right to a sound basic education, among other things.
New York State has shortchanged the entire public school system by billions of dollars, ignoring an agreement that followed a landmark court ruling in 2006. NYSER filed suit against Cuomo, Regents and Commissioner King on the basis of depriving students and public schools the money they are entitled to under the NYS Constitution and basically denying students their rights to a sound basic education. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/nyregion/suit-will-seek-money-that-new-york-state-promised-to-schools-in-2007.html
As usual, Cuomo blew the suit off. He claimed the theory behind the NYSER lawsuit seeking more money for New York schools is flawed because he said more money doesn’t equal better academic results.
“We spend more than any other state in the country,” he said. “It ain’t about the money. It’s about how you spend it—and the results.”
Perhaps someone should send Cuomo back to school and teach him a lesson? But, I digress.
Yesterday, Gov. Cuomo unveiled the Smart Schools Commission report regarding the proposed Smart Schools Bond Act. Through passage of the Act, Cuomo is essentially promising that schools will get free money to make upgrades that they desperately need.
Here is the full report:
Here is a Smart Schools Presentation Video from Cuomo’s website:
But, the circumstances surrounding the Bond Act begs the question, is this really free money or is it money that belongs to public schools in the first place which the state has refused to provide despite the fact that they are Constitutionally required to do so?
Many parents and educators acorss that state plan to Vote NO on the Bond Act. Some of the reasons to vote no on the Bond Act are articulated in these blog pieces authored by parent advocates here:
A New York State Education Department (NYSED) Office of Facilities Planning Newsletter issued in September encouraged districts to “review district needs in relation to these project categories and have a plan to proceed if funding becomes available.” The newsletter includes limited information on how to put together that plan, saying “more information will be provided as it becomes available and once a successful bond act is authorized.” This “plan” is speculative at best.
Other voting considerations:
-The governor has spun this proposition as a tech initiative, a way to “transform our classrooms from the classrooms of yesterday to the classrooms of tomorrow,” as he said in his January State of the State speech when he first pitched the Smart Schools Bond.
New York City stands to receive up to $783 million from the bond, which is by far the most money of any district (it being the largest). Buffalo would be the next highest, at $56 million. Just over 300 of the state’s 674 districts would receive under $1 million in funding. But how much of that money will actually go toward technology in each district remains to be seen.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to secure $340 million annually for his pre-k program through a tax hike on the city’s top earners. But Gov. Cuomo did not back the tax, choosing to allocate $300 million to the city from the state’s budget instead. That left de Blasio $40 million short annually, and the windfall from the Smart Schools Bond Act would be used to help to cover the difference over the next several years.
The mayor plans to allocate roughly $310 for the restructuring of existing buildings to create additional seats for his pre-k initiative, according to a spokesperson for the mayor.
As the proposition is currently written, there is no requirement that a certain percentage of the money be spent on technology.
-The legislation that authorized the bond act assumes an eight-year shelf-life for the technology products. That is a very generous estimate considering how quickly technology changes and pieces of it become obsolete.
For some technology perspective: the first iPad was released in April of 2010. It was discontinued in March of 2011. In less than five years since the introduction of the iPad there have been five iterations as well as three versions of the iPad Mini (introduced in November 2012) and an iPad Air. Unless districts are able to work out leases with manufacturers, schools could be dealing with outdated equipment for years.
-The debt this $2 billion bond will create is no small amount in the annual budget. E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, puts the total at roughly $130 million per year, but that figure could change drastically depending on how long the note is for.
The State Comptroller will make that determination using a weighted average, assuming 30 years for pre-k investments, 20 years for connectivity investments, and eight years for technology hardware. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s April 2014 preliminary budget report issued a warning on this issue, saying, “mandating the use of the weighted average method could result in higher overall borrowing costs for the State’s taxpayers even though annual debt service payments in the early years may be less.”
In addition, approving the bond will push the state very close to its statutory debt ceiling. If the entire $2 billion is authorized, the capacity under the cap will shrink to just $366 million, or 0.3 percent of capacity by fiscal year 2017, according to figures provided by Citizens Budget Commission (CBC). In fact, given its analysis of the proposal, the CBC is now encouraging New York voters to vote “no” on Prop 3.
At $2 billion, the Smart Schools Bond Act is the largest authorization of debt in the fiscal year 2015 budget.
-There is no shortage of lobbying in education, but when it comes to the Smart Schools Bond Act, the regular cast of characters seems to be surprisingly quiet. Advocacy groups, for the most part, are not supporting this proposal.
“I know of no state education groups—or any groups, for that matter, that are actively advocating for passage of the act,” David Albert, spokesman for the New York State School Boards Association.
Cuomo supports the Bond Act. Many NYC in need of Pre K and advocacy groups for students w disabilities support the Bond. Many schools cannot meet accomodations needed for CC Parcc exams without the tech upgrades among other things. Yes, despite that NYS bilked schools out of Billions, schools are so desperate they see it as free money NOW. Tomorrow doesnt matter.
Disability groups support the Bond: http://readme.readmedia.com/Schools-serving-New-York-Students-with-Disabilities-Support-the-2-Billion-Smart-Schools-Bond-Act-of-2014/9837664
But isnt this a vote YES, under duress?
For a woman who seems to have strong opinons and likes to impose her views on others, even Chancellor Tisch seems lukewarm to the Bond proposal:
““I would never say to districts why they should vote for something,” Tisch told Capital on Wednesday. “I’m not familiar enough with the 700 school districts across the state to say it’s good for everyone. … Every district has its own needs and I think they all need to make those decisions for themselves with recognition of what’s going on in their communities. That’s why there is a voting booth.”
For more details on cost plus interest see:
Conflict of Interest
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo appointed a three-person commission to offer thoughts on the use of technology in schools.
The group, the governor’s office said in a statement, will be “charged with advising the state on how to best invest” the $2 billion the governor plans to raise in a “Smart Schools” bond issue in the fall.
Eric E. Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, is one of the three, but his appointment raised some eyebrows. Mr. Schmidt’s company has a commercial interest in seeing more Chromebook computers, which run Google’s Chrome web software, and the company’s productivity applications, Google Apps, being used in schools.
And Mr. Schmidt’s appointment struck Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit advocacy group with a history of pursuing Google, mostly on privacy issues, as a conflict of interest. Last month, it sent a letter of protest to Mr. Cuomo’s office, and got no reply.
On Monday, the watchdog group, based in California, filed a complaint with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, saying that Mr. Schmidt has “serious, troubling and unlawful conflicts of interest” that should preclude him from serving on the commission.
A copy of the ethics complaint is here:
Consumer Watchdog called on Gov. Cuomo to remove Google chairman Eric Schmidt from NY Smart Schools Panel and block the company from providing tech to schools:
The group further criticized Cuomo for seeking tech advice from Google’s Eric Schmidt:
Empire Center, a NYS watchdog group, agreed with the concern. They wrote:
Looking for advice on how to spend $2 billion for schoolhouse technology, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo turned to one of the men who built Google into a global colossus.
Now critics are asking whether it’s appropriate for Eric Schmidt, the tech company’s executive chairman, to be recommending projects that his company could well benefit from.
“It’s a flat-out conflict,” said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog. “Google is getting its top people into places they can throw around some influence.”
Cuomo announced earlier this month that Schmidt would be the only tech expert on a three-person advisory panel — the Smart Schools Commission — charged with helping the governor’s administration spend the cash to be raised through a bond issue on the November ballot. Other members of the panel include are education expert Geoffrey Canada and Constance Evelyn, the schools superintendent in the upstate New York community of Auburn.
When the governor made his announcement, he said money from the referendum would, among other things, be “used for enhanced education technology in schools, with eligible projects including the purchase of classroom technology for use by students and teachers, as well as infrastructure improvements to bring high-speed broadband to schools and communities in their school district.”
Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing insisted, though, that Schmidt’s role would not give Google a leg up. Wing told ABC News that Cuomo sought out Schmidt – not the other way around – and that the executive is going to be far removed from government decisions that could benefit Google or harm the company’s competitors.
“New Yorkers are lucky that Eric Schmidt is volunteering his time to serve on the Smart Schools Commission, which will provide broad recommendations to help create 21st century classrooms in our schools,” Wing said. “The commission he is on is purely advisory and will not be recommending specific products. Instead school purchases will be determined by guidelines set by an independent panel, individual needs of school districts and a procurement process specifically designed to ensure taxpayer dollars go to the best bid. Any representations to the contrary are simply wrong.”
Any programs or initiatives suggested by the panel would have to be approved by a three-person board led by the state’s education commissioner. And any spending would have to go through the normal procurement process. State advisory panels have, however, been controversial in the past and their members are subject to many of New York’s rules governing conflicts of interest.
Simpson, and others currently questioning Schmidt’s appointment, said the Google leader will be able to play an unparalleled role in setting spending priorities in educational technology, an area that has been identified as a key growth sector for the ubiquitous internet company.
“If the governor were sincere about having technologists advise him, he would have gone to some highly respected academic technologists or even some other technologists” from other companies, Simpson said.
E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, told ABC News he doesn’t know how an observer would conclude there’s no conflict here. Schmidt “is a vendor. It’s pretty clear to be there’s a conflict. This is an incredible blind spot on the governor’s part,” McMahon said.
Wing stressed that all voices will be heard in the Smart Schools process even though Schmidt is the only tech expert or executive on the panel.
Contacted by ABC News, Google declined to comment and referred questions back to the governor’s office.
Schmidt, who has been with Google since 2001, was CEO of the company as it grew from start-up to behemoth. Schmidt, 59, has a doctorate in computer science from UC Berkeley, has advised President Obama and is a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology.”
Given all of the facts, is a vote yes under duress?
YOU decide on November 4th.
Im voting NO.