New York Bonds for School Technology Act (2014)
|Bonds for School Technology Act|
|Referred by:||New York Legislature|
|Topic:||Bond issues on the ballot|
|Status:||On the ballot|
The New York Bonds for School Technology Act is on the November 4, 2014 ballot in New York as a legislatively-referred bond question. The measure, upon voter approval, would authorize the state comptroller to issue and sell bonds up to the amount of $2 million. The revenue received from the sale of such bonds would be used for projects related to the following:
- Purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.
- Constructing and modernizing facilities to accomodate pre-kindergarten programs and replacing classroom trailers with permanent instructional space.
- Installing high-tech security features in school buildings.
On April 17, 2014, Gov. Cuomo announced a Smart Schools Commission designed to explore how to invest the two billion dollar bond in school technology upgrades. The commission is composed of three individuals: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, and Constance Evelyn, Superintendent of the Auburn School District.
Text of measure
The tentative ballot text reads as follows:
|“||SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014
The SMART SCHOOLS BOND ACT OF 2014, as set forth in section one of part B of chapter  of the laws of 2014, authorizes the sale of state bonds of up to two billion dollars ($2,000,000,000) to provide access to classroom technology and high-speed internet connectivity to equalize opportunities for children to learn, to add classroom space to expand high-quality pre-kindergarten programs, to replace classroom trailers with permanent instructional space, and to install high-tech smart security features in schools. Shall the SMART SCHOOLS BONDS ACT OF 2014 be approved? 
|Independent Redistricting Amendment|
|Electronic Bills Amendment|
|Bonds for School Technology|
- Constance Evelyn, who serves on the Smart Schools Commission, argued, “There is a stark difference between a classroom outfitted with up-to-date, advanced technology, and one without. As we prepare our students to compete and find jobs in an economy that places high value on technical literacy, it is of vital importance that all our children have access to the classrooms where they can develop these skills.”
- E.J. McMahon, President of the Empire Center, argued that the bond would pay for technology that will be “outdated and useless” before the state’s bonded indebtedness is even paid off.
- Citizen’s Budget Commission’s Vice President Elizabeth Lynam compared issuing bonds for school technology to taking a loan for a vacation. She said, “It's OK to borrow money to purchase a house and you pay that back over 30 years because the house is going to last you 30 years. It's not OK to borrow typically in your personal life for a vacation because that's a short term benefit and you're going to be paying it back for many years to come.”
Eric Schmidt and Google
Gov. Cuomo (D) appointed Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, to the Smart Schools Commission. The commission will recommend how to invest the bond. E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center insisted that the danger of a conflict of interest is very real. He continued, "[Schmidt] is a vendor. It's pretty clear to be there's a conflict [sic]. This is an incredible blind spot on the governor's part." Jamie Court, President of Consumer Watchdog, and John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Private Policy Director, wrote a letter to Gov. Cuomo. The two criticized the appointment and asked the governor to remove Schmidt. The following is an excerpt from their letter:
|“||Dear Gov. Cuomo,
We are writing on behalf of Consumer Watchdog... to express our deep concern about your appointment of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt to the New York Smart Schools Commission to advise the state on how to invest proceeds from the proposed $2 billion bond act and bring technology into classrooms statewide. Consumer Watchdog calls on you to 1) Preclude Google from providing any of the new technology to the state’s schools given the conflict of interest created by Schmidt’s appointment 2) Remove Schmidt from the Commission immediately given Google’s disregard for students’ privacy and the potential for self-dealing.
It is entirely inappropriate for a top of executive of a company likely to be considered as provider of technology to advise the state on what technology to adopt. This is not the fox guarding the chicken coop, but rather the fox building the coop. The chickens in this case are children whose privacy Google has shown a consistent disrespect for, making Schmidt a doubly distressful choice for the Commission. As this article from Education Week documents, Google is under intense criticism for data mining the email messages of students who use Google Apps For Education, apps that have been available to New York’s 697 public school districts since 2010... It appears that Google’s practices violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Taking advice from the executive of a company engaged in such dubious practices is simply wrong.
As was outlined in this recent Washington Post article, Google has become a master of maneuvering behind the scenes to obtain the results desired from regulators and lawmakers...
As the Post explains, “The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence. That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects.”
Schmidt, who by the way sits on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, is a master of inserting himself into positions where he can drive policy decisions in the direction that Google favors. That is precisely what is happening with the New York Smart Schools Commission and such self-dealing must not be tolerated when it comes to the best interests of New York State’s children...
No one doubts the urgency of bringing technology into our schools. We believe you should be commended for proposing the $2 billion bond that will go before New York voters in November. However, allowing one person from the gargantuan company that so dominates the Internet to play a primary role in shaping the policy is unfair and wrong. We call upon you to block Google from supplying technology under the bond act should it be approved by the voters and for you to remove Eric Schmidt from the Smart Schools Commission immediately... 
Matt Wing, the governor’s spokesperson, replied to critics, saying, “The commission [Schmidt] 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.”
Path to the ballot
- See also: Authorizing bond referendums in New York
According to Section 11, Article VII of the New York Constitution, a majority vote was required in the legislature in order to qualify the bond question for the statewide ballot. The measure was required to be passed by the legislature at least three months before the general election. The New York Senate and the New York Assembly both approved S6356D on March 31, 2014.
April 30, 2014 Senate vote
|New York S6356D Senate Vote|
April 30, 2014 Assembly vote
|New York S6356D Assembly Vote|
- New York Legislature, "S 6356," accessed April 30, 2014
- The Journal News, "State of the State: Cuomo focuses on tax cuts, education," January 8, 2014
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, "School-bond act to improve classroom tech," April 17, 2014
- Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
- Capital New York, "Cuomo’s school bond would stall environmental measure," January 9, 2014
- WNYC, "To Bond or Not To Bond? Cuomo's Budget Asks the Question," January 20, 2014
- ABC News, "Gov. Cuomo Criticized for Seeking Tech Advice From Google's Eric Schmidt," April 30, 2014
- Education Week, "Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Email Messages," March 13, 2014
- Washington Post, "Google, once disdainful of lobbying, now a master of Washington influence," April 12 2014
- Consumer Watchdog, "Letter to Gov. Cuomo," April 21, 2014
- New York Assembly, "S06356 Votes," accessed April 30, 2014
- New York Senate, "Bill S6356D-2013," accessed April 30, 2014
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