Will buying laptops instead of textbooks save Idaho money?

Will buying laptops instead of textbooks save Idaho money?

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by Scott Evans

Bio | Email | Follow: @ScottEvansKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on November 1, 2012 at 6:06 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 10 at 3:25 AM

MERIDIAN -- We're just days away from knowing whether the Students Come First laws will remain on the books or be repealed by voters. And with so little time, there are still many who aren't sure how they're going to vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3.

We took a closer look at a portion of Prop 3 and how the state plans to make up the difference between what was budgeted for the technology component and what it will actually cost.

Since Hewlett-Packard won the contract to provide the laptops to high school students across the state, we've found out that the first five years will cost nearly $83 million. That's $12 million more than an estimate in 2011. But Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna says without this program districts across the state will spend $13 million on textbooks.

We looked into that claim to see if this program will be cheaper or more expensive for districts when it comes to textbooks.

At Renaissance High School in Meridian, laptops and textbooks fill the same tables. Some of the textbooks, like a history book, are obviously outdated, missing information about President Obama.

"We really have not made a textbook adoption or had textbook money since before the recession," said Dr. Linda Clark, the Superintendent of Joint School District Number Two, the largest district in the state.

Her school board is neutral on Prop 3. She says it costs her district between $1 million and $2 million to buy a set of new textbooks for the district.

"Over the last four years,” Clark said. “We've only purchased some books for our growth students, as new kids came in, in the fall.”

Luna suggested last week that Prop 3, the technology portion of Students Come First, would save districts across the state $13 million a year. So instead of buying traditional textbooks, districts would turn to inexpensive digital versions.

"Switching to a digital format, will that save the district money?” asked KTVB.

“Potentially,” said Clark. “It will save us some money and more importantly it will ensure teachers have access to up-to-date material, up-to-date content.”

Through a pilot program with Discovery, Clark can get e-textbooks for her district for about $5 per student, per year. Students would then use them on the laptops provided by the state. That's cheaper than the $125 traditional textbook. But there's more to getting textbooks than that.

"If we had the money to spend, it would cost us less to buy the online content than the traditional textbook, however that said, we haven't been getting textbook money for several years," said Clark.

The Boise School District faces similar problems; it also hasn't had extra money to buy new textbooks in four years. But Boise doesn't have the same e-textbook savings as its neighbor.

A district spokesperson says a textbook publisher can get the e-textbooks $20 cheaper than the traditional hardbound book. So Boise would save money on e-textbooks, just not as much.

"Districts will have to think differently about what they buy. They'll have to think differently about how they allocate their resources," said Clark.

And it will be on each district to go out and see what type of deal it can get in order to find the savings Luna is talking about.

"It's a little hard to say you're going to save this money when you haven't been getting that money. I do think it will be different. And I think potentially we can get more for the buck with online content," said Clark.

Even though e-textbooks are cheaper, just judging from the two largest districts in the state - it will be difficult to save the entire $13 million, but savings will be there.

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