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Cuomo proposes bond act for school technology

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered a State of

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo delivered a State of the State address Wednesday that raised familiar themes: cutting business and estate taxes, investing in technology and passing a "women's agenda" that includes strengthening abortion rights.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to borrow $2 billion to reboot computer technology for public schools, especially those in lower income communities where just 63 percent of children have access to computers at home.

"There are some schools where the most sophisticated equipment they have is the metal detector on the way to the classroom, and that is just wrong," said Cuomo. "Some schools have the Internet, some schools don't even have a basketball net."

The proposed bond issue was one of several education proposals in his State of the State speech Wednesday. Cuomo also proposed substantial bonuses for "highly effective" teachers and continued to push for pre-kindergarten statewide. His higher education measures would provide full scholarships for promising math and science students and create the nation's first homeland security college.

Cuomo proposed the borrowing to pay for computers, tablets, high-speed broadband and wireless Internet connections in schools. Voters would have to approve the bond act.

"I think it's necessary to make sure our kids are getting the best education and technology," said Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Flangan called the proposal a "proactive stance."

"Of course, I'm concerned about the state debt, but we are at a critical juncture in education and we need to keep up," said Flanagan (R-East Northport).

"Technology is already part of our students' lives. It should be part of their education," said state schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. "The governor's plan will make every classroom a 21st century classroom."

Cuomo also proposed a Teacher Excellence Fund to help districts provide bonuses of up to $20,000 a year to educators who achieve the level of "highly effective" in the evaluation system Cuomo brought to public schools.

That could add up fast. Of 126,849 teachers whose evaluations have been reported to the state Education Department, more than 63,000 were rated highly effective by their school districts, according to state records. That means the bonuses could potentially cost the state and local districts $1 billion.

He also underscored his push for statewide pre-kindergarten. But he continued to hold off revealing how he would pay for it until his budget proposal in two weeks.

Cuomo also proposes full scholarships for high school students in the top 10 percent of their high school class if they pursue science, technology, engineering or math degrees at public colleges and agree to work in New York state for five years.

"That was interesting, but there are other kids in the middle who would do very well in college and we have to do something for them, too," said Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx).

Cuomo also proposed the nation's first college for homeland security and cybersecurity under the State University of New York. Cuomo said former New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly would be the new college's advisor.

Silver said Cuomo's proposal for construction borrowing for schools would boost the statewide pre-kindergarten initiative he's pushed for well over a decade.

"We don't have the physical facilities to use full-day (pre-kindergarten) for every 4-year old in New York," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "That's been very difficult . . . we need the facilities."

With Yancey Roy

State & Region