Wake Ed

NC school districts must prepare for only digital textbooks by 2017

The pathway to all digital textbooks in North Carolina’s public schools by 2017 is pretty uncharted right now.

As noted in today’s article, state funding for textbooks has been slashed by nearly 80 percent over the past four years. At the same time, a new state law passed this year says the General Assembly will switch to funding only digital textbooks by 2017.

For school districts, including Wake County, the way to accomplish that new course is uncertain. A big question is how will students access the material digitally when districts don’t yet have one computer for every student.

In Wake County, the district is still working through the a bring your own device policy, including what you do when students don’t have their own devices.

When Wake voters approved the $810 million school construction bond issue in October, that also came with an $130 million in cash set aside by the county. The school district plans to use the cash to pay for new devices, such as SMART boards, tablets and laptop computers and for improving the technology infrastructure so schools can handle large numbers of students trying to go online at the same time.

Wake had been using East Cary Middle School to help pilot the use of tablets for students. Wake is looking to continue those kinds of pilots.

In contrast, other much smaller school systems in North Carolina have gone a lot further than Wake.

For instance, the Orange County school system has given laptop computers to every student in grades three through 12. The middle school and high school students can take their computers home with them.

Orange County is partially paying for the program with a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011.

The Mooresville Graded School District has received national attention for its Digital Conversion program.

Every Mooresville student in grades 4-12 has a laptop computer provided by the district. All but the third-grade students can take their computers home with them.

A local Internet provider is providing free service to any Mooresville student’s family that can show it’s receiving a federally subsidized lunch. Other students can get Internet service at a discounted rate.

Mooresville got the program started by looking for areas where the district could make cuts.

“It really will require finding out what things you can live without,” said Terry Haas, Mooresville’s chief financial officer.

BTW, I’ve noticed there’s been some confusion in the comments on today’s article about when the state budget cuts took place in textbook funding.

State textbook funding was at $111.2 million in the 2009-10 fiscal year.

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, textbook funding was cut to $2.5 million. The cut was adopted in 2010 back when Democrats were in charge of the General Assembly.

In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the first year that Republicans were in charge, funding for textbooks went up to $23.4 million. In the following two fiscal years, it was $22.8 million and $23.2 million.

The N.C. Association of Educators complained that this year’s state budget “ cuts textbook funding by $77.4 million.”