There’s a lot of talk about public-private partnerships at all levels of government. If our state officials can strike a deal to benefit New York’s inmates, we think it’s time to negotiate for the benefit of our collective future — Suffolk County students.
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision announced a deal with a private company, JPay, to provide free tablets to approximately 51,000 state prisoners. JPay is a Miami-based company that provides technology and services to help the incarcerated stay connected with people outside prison. The state prisoners will be able to read e-books, listen to music and even have family send money back to them.
“The decision by New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to allow inmates to be provided free tablets is a slap in the face and an insult to every hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying family across New York State that struggles to provide these same tablets and other school supplies for their children,” said state Assemblyman Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue).
We have to agree. To be clear, helping incarcerated citizens develop tools for success upon their release is a worthwhile endeavor for both the individuals and the society they hope to assimilate back into at the conclusion of their sentence. However, if such a deal can be struck for those in jail, we’d like to see the New York State Department of Education at least attempt to negotiate a private-public partnership with technology manufacturers or educational software providers to see if a similar arrangement can be made.
It’s no secret that many Suffolk County teachers wind up purchasing basic supplies — crayons, construction paper, glue, markers, calculators and other supplies — for their classrooms out of their own pockets. If a penny of funding for basic staples is coming from teachers’ pockets, more expensive, big-ticket items must also be a problem, despite the passage of the Smart Schools Bond Act in 2014, which was enacted for the purpose of updating technology in schools.
Kings Park High School announced it received approval for its state technology initiative in November 2017, one of the first districts on Long Island to do so. It is the first time the district can afford major technological upgrades in 10 years. Let that sink in — the computers, networks and internet capabilities our students rely on are more than a decade old.
Suffolk County’s public schools educate more than 235,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the New York State Department of Education’s figures for the 2016-17 school year. While this is five times more than our state prisoners, it should not be perceived as impossible.
We’d like to see the state education department and our school districts get creative in finding solutions to budgetary problems. School budget season is getting underway and finding and negotiating public-private partnerships with some of the large businesses in their backyard could be the solution taxpayers are looking for.