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Digital texts come with a price tag

Digital texts may be cheaper and more flexible than their paper predecessors. But they also require schools to provide online access, which can lead to big-money decisions about buying laptops, tablets and other devices.

Mooresville Graded Schools, with about 5,500 students in K-12, has gotten national acclaim for its approach: All students in grades 4 to 12 are issued MacBooks to use in class and take home. Classrooms also have laptops, iPads and interactive whiteboards.

Officials there say the full-scale conversion to digital learning has helped free up money for the devices. Textbooks cost an average of $75, while Mooresville spends an average of $44 per student on all “digital resources,” including the techbooks, says Chief Financial Officer Terry Haas.

CMS, which is 26 times the size of the Mooresville district, is still trying to find money to ensure that all students can take advantage of digital learning. The district has already spent millions on laptops and tablets for students and teachers, but remains far short of having devices for all 144,000 K-12 students.

This year, CMS spent almost $1.3 million to buy sets of Chromebooks so each middle school can use them for social studies and science, Truesdale said. All middle schools have at least two sets, but some large schools with several social studies and science teachers have to juggle time on the techbooks with more traditional activities.

Truesdale says CMS hasn’t calculated a cost for providing each student constant access to digital devices: “It depends on what you buy and whether or not you send them home.”

In the last couple of years, CMS has hustled to provide bandwidth that allows large numbers of students to use the Internet at the same time in schools. All schools got full Wi-Fi access in August, at a cost of $11.8 million. Mobile classrooms still lack that capacity; that’s expected to take another $2.5 million.

Helms: 704-358-5033; Twitter: @anndosshelms
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