With last week’s education event from Apple, the big news was the addition of textbooks to the iBookstore. Apple has teamed up with some of the largest suppliers of traditional textbooks to bring digital interactive learning tools to students in K-12 education. With this new way of teaching children, one glaring question still stands out, who will pay for it?
There have been arguments for and against the use of iPads in K-12 public schools since the device first launched. Some school districts have already successfully implemented a “one iPad for every child” program. However, there are a plenty of people that say they don’t want their tax dollars going to pay for this kind of technology.
The problem goes much deeper than any individual’s tax dollar. Currently, the public school system is suffering from a major debt crisis that has dramatically affected K-12 education. School districts that are seeing improvement in facilities and curriculum materials are mainly districts that were able to get local bonds approved to help fund much needed projects. Low-income school districts have a significantly harder time getting funding from local sources. In fact, many qualify for 100 percent State funding of projects instead of being required to come up with a percentage match, which doesn’t help much, since states are in such a financial crisis at the moment.
At the minimum cost of $499 per iPad a district would need to come up with nearly $750,000 just to have an iPad for every student at one average-size high school of 1,500 students. Depending on the size of the district, the total for high schools alone would be around the $2 million mark.
Some school districts could raise that kind of money from local bond sales, but low-income communities will not likely see an iPad in the hands of every student. The digital textbooks idea could create an even wider gap between low and middle-income children. Many low-income schools are having trouble just keeping proper air ventilation for their students. Finding funding for iPads seems impossible. Who will help low-income districts get the same opportunities to education as middle income districts? Will Apple offer free and low-cost iPads to children that qualify? If so, will low-income school districts be required to pay back money that is borrowed to pay for them?
The need to fund public schools is only part of the problem. What about misused or misplaced tablets? For example, California Education Code Section 48904(a)(1) “holds parents or guardians responsible for the cost of replacing a textbook that is willfully defaced or not returned.” When we are talking about a kid getting caught drawing a mustache on a $75 textbook, it seems sensible to hold the parent or guardian responsible for paying for the replacement. However, if a student gets caught slapping a skateboard sticker on the back of an iPad, is it really reasonable to force the parent to pay $500 for a new one? It doesn’t matter if it is reasonable or not, in California, it is the law.
Additionally, the $15 price tag is not all it is cracked up to be. AllThingsD recently spoke with McGraw-Hill’s CEO, Terry McGraw who said that the low cost of a digital textbook can be justified because new copies would be purchased for each individual student, each year. Currently, a textbook will stay in the system for approximately five years. Buying a $15 textbook may seem like a great deal, but if school districts will have to buy a new one each year, they are not saving any money.
Apple’s great move toward helping to better educate our children seems not to have been thought through to assure that all students get the same opportunities. Unfortunately, if the digital textbook phenomenon takes off, it is likely that there will be an inequality in the children who get to take advantage of such technology and children who will be left out.