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Voters greenlight $780 million for pre-K construction, trailer removal

Last night’s election wasn’t a complete loss for Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor’s path for pushing through legislative priorities in Albany was made tougher by Republicans’ seizure of a majority of seats in the state Senate. But with the passage of Proposition 3, dubbed the Smart Schools Bond Act, New York City stands to receive $783 million — some of which will help de Blasio reach his goal of bringing pre-kindergarten to 70,000 four-year-olds by next September.

The bond act gives the state permission to raise $2 billion to be split up among the state’s 700 school districts. Cuomo billed it as a way to jolt schools into the 21st century by allowing them to increase wireless bandwidth and pay for technology upgrades, and a Cuomo-convened commission recently recommended that districts spend the money on technology, such as tablets and interactive whiteboards, to improve online learning in schools.

But de Blasio is planning to use 40 percent of the money to support his most important initiative: pre-K expansion. The city’s capital plan, released last February, set aside $310 million for building renovations for pre-K programs that was contingent on the bond act. The rest of the money generated by the bond will be redirected toward creating 4,900 new classroom seats over the next five years to help reduce class sizes, according to the February plan.

City and state lawmakers who represent districts with overcrowded schools have since pushed for money from the bond act to be used specifically for removing outdoor classroom trailers, which serve at least 7,000 students (though that number could be as high as 10,000). Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has gently urged de Blasio to consider removal of the trailers in his budget.

The bond money was redirected away from being used for technology in part because the city had already set aside $650 million for technology enhancements. The money will be used to improve bandwidth and support online learning.

The Department of Education did not respond to questions about whether it will set aside money for trailer removal. The city is set to release an updated version of its spending plan for capital projects later this month.

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