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New Yorkers Approve $2 Billion in School Spending

The bond referendum provides money for more space, better security and new high-tech gadgets.

New York City's P.S. 6, a public elementary school located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Wikimedia Commons/ Jim.henderson
New Yorkers have approved spending a historic $2 billion to try to bring its overcrowded and outdated public classrooms into the 21st Century with more space, better security and new gadgets for teachers like iPads and interactive whiteboards.

The ballot measure, dubbed the Smart Schools Bond Act, will direct borrowed money to school construction, including expanding schools to accommodate new pre-kindergarten classes, and installing high-tech security features. The money would also go to big technology upgrades like high-speed broadband or wireless internet and purchasing educational technology equipment.

The bond act claimed a majority of the votes with just under half of voters casting a yes vote. (It failed to get a simple majority; one in five voters left the question blank.) Roughly 90 percent of precincts had reported by 6 a.m., Wednesday.

The bond referendum was a key part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s platform this year and he proposed it in his State of the State Address. (It was Cuomo’s second win of the day as he also won election to a second term Tuesday.) On his website promoting the act, Cuomo argued that integrating technology into school curriculum isn't just about saving money on paper and copying expenses. A 2010 study called Project RED (which was, admittedly, sponsored by technology companies Intel, Apple, Qwest Communications and eChalk) found that more technology could reduce both dropout rates and disciplinary actions, and could help improve student performance on standardized tests.

Detractors of the bond referendum said that the plan amounted to irresponsible spending because the state would be paying back its debt on technology equipment long after the devices were obsolete. Last year, Los Angeles was criticized for using long-term construction bonds to pay for the first phase of its program that sought to distribute an iPad to every student. (In August, the program was "placed on hiatus" amid a contracting scandal.) Typically, bank loans and other kinds of short-term instruments such as leases have been used for short-life assets.

It’s up to the schools to determine how much money will actually be spent on the short-term technology versus long-term assets like building expansions. The $2 billion would be divided up between the state’s 675 school districts based on the state funding formula which takes into account things like student population and household incomes in each district. The districts are responsible for coming up with a proposed spending plan under the parameters of the bond act and subject to approval by the state.

Liz Farmer is a former GOVERNING fiscal policy writer.
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