tech crunch

Cuomo wants N.Y. voters to approve $2 billion for school technology

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Gov. Andrew Cuomo delivered his annual State of the State address today in Albany.

If Andrew Cuomo has his way, voters will do more this fall than reelect him to a second term as governor of New York State. They’ll also approve a $2 billion bond to pay for classroom technology costs that could balloon in coming years.

The proposal was among the most substantial schools-related offerings in Cuomo’s 2014 State of the State speech today. Nestled among proposals to expand pre-kindergarten and give bonuses to top-rated teachers, the technology proposal also reflected the most specificity about funding.

Under the plan, voters would let state borrow $2 billion that would go directly toward making schools wireless, buying tablets and wired whiteboards, and expanding programs that allow students to use technology to learn at their own pace.

The purchases would come at a time when the state’s anticipated move toward online testing aligned to new Common Core standards promises to put new pressures on schools’ technology infrastructure. Schools are also increasingly turning to “blended learning,” which includes some work done online, to tailor instruction to individual students.

So far, Cuomo said, some schools and districts have been able to keep up with the changes, while poorer school districts are being left behind.

“There are some schools where there are sophisticated new computer systems starting in first grade,” Cuomo said. “There are some schools where the most sophisticated piece of electronic equipment is the metal detector that you walk through on your way to the classroom.”

He added, “If you aren’t on the information superhighway it can leave you behind at a hundred miles per hour.”

The $2 billion bond, called “Smart Schools,” would need to be put up to a referendum, much like the casino construction referendum that was passed during last year’s election. First, however, the state would need to pass legislation to allow it to put it up for a vote.

“Let’s go to the people of this state,” Cuomo said. “Let’s go to them in November. Let’s put on the ballot a bond referendum for the Smart Schools initiative.”

Cuomo was far less specific about how he would fund other education initiatives floated during the speech. As anticipated, he endorsed the idea of expanding access to full-day pre-kindergarten throughout the state, but he did not say where the funds to cover “truly universal” pre-K would come from. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, sitting in the audience, has proposed an income tax hike on the city’s highest earners to pay for pre-K expansion, a plan that Cuomo has reportedly rejected.

Cuomo also reprised ideas for competitive grants to school districts to retain high-performing teachers expand career-oriented schools that are like Brooklyn’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School.

Cuomo also said he would propose legislation to require state education officials to notify law enforcement agencies if they are made aware of any religious or racial perception in schools. He said the fact that state officials learned about alleged anti-Semitism in the upstate Pine Bush district from a New York Times report had prompted him to act.

Raise your voice

Memphis, what do you want in your next school superintendent?

PHOTO: Kyle Kurlick for Chalkbeat

Tennessee’s largest school district needs a permanent leader. What kind of superintendent do you think Shelby County Schools should be looking for?

Now is the chance to raise your voice. The school board is in the thick of finalizing a national search and is taking bids from search firms. Board members say they want a leader to replace former superintendent Dorsey Hopson in place within 18 months. They have also said they want community input in the process, though board members haven’t specified what that will look like. In the interim, career Memphis educator Joris Ray is at the helm.

Let us know what you think is most important in the next superintendent.  Select responses will be published.

state of the state

Whitmer: Michigan needs ‘bold’ changes to fix schools — not just more money

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her first State of the State address on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019.

Michigan’s new governor called for “bold” changes to the way schools are funded — though she’s not saying what those changes could be.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who took office last month, devoted a large part of her first State of the State Address on Tuesday night decrying a “crisis” in education defined by alarming declines in childhood literacy.

Those declines can’t be blamed on students or schools, she said.

“Our students are not broken,” she said. “Our teachers are not broken. Our system has been broken … And greater investment alone won’t be enough.”

Whitmer offered no specifics about the reform she wants to see, but said she didn’t think incremental changes would be enough to fix Michigan schools.

“Phony fixes won’t solve the problems,” she said.

“A government that doesn’t work today can’t get the job done for tomorrow,” she said. “That ends now. As a state, we must make the bold choice so we can build a stronger Michigan.”

Whitmer is expected to propose her first state budget next month. She said that budget will “give our frontline educators the tools they need to address the literacy crisis.”

Her comments come amid a growing chorus from education and business leaders across the state who have called for funding schools differently, giving schools more money for students who cost more to educate, such as those who are learning English or living in poverty. That would be a departure from Michigan’s current system of giving schools largely the same amount per student, regardless of that student’s needs or background.

A report from Michigan State University last month found that Michigan had seen the largest education funding decline in the nation since 2002 and currently has one of the nation’s lowest funding levels for students with disabilities.

Changing school funding could pose a challenge to a Democrat working with a Republican-controlled legislature.

Whitmer’s hourlong speech was greeted warmly by Democrats who cheered her policy proposals but drew less support from people across the aisle.

At one point, she seemed concerned that only Democrats stood to applaud a line about “generations of leadership” failing Michigan children.

“I know Republicans love education, don’t you?” she asked.  

Whitmer invited Marla Williams, who teaches special education at Detroit’s Davison Elementary School, to the speech. She praised her for “tireless” advocacy that includes visiting children when they’re sick and doing their laundry.

“That’s because she — like so many Michigan educators — knows teaching is more than a career. It’s a calling,” Whitmer said. “I want to send a message to all the devoted educators across Michigan: You’re not failing us. We have been failing you.”

Detroit teacher Marla Williams waves during Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address.

The only specific education policy proposals Whitmer offered in her speech involved helping high school graduates attain career certificates or college degrees.

She proposed a scholarship program called MI Opportunity Scholarship that would guarantee two years of debt-free community college to qualified high school graduates.

Whitmer said this would make Michigan the first midwestern state to guarantee community college to all residents, but the impact would be minimal in the 15 cities — including Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Kalamazoo — that already offer free community college through Promise scholarships.

Whitmer’s proposed scholarship would also provide two years of tuition assistance to students seeking four-year degrees at nonprofit colleges and universities. She said the option would be available to all Michigan students who graduate with a B average.

The Detroit Promise scholarship pays the four-year tuition for students who earn a 3.0 grade point average and score above a 21 on the ACT, or a 1060 on the SAT.

Whitmer’s scholarship proposal bears some similarities to a popular Michigan scholarship called the Michigan Merit Award that gave scholarships to students who earned high scores on a state exam. That program was cut from the state budget over a decade ago.