From a Dec. 17 editorial in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:
While politicians debate the best approach to public education, a situation has emerged about which there should be no debate: Schools are running out of textbooks.
Among squabbles over charter schools, vouchers and teacher pay, the General Assembly has been quietly holding back funding for one of the most basic tools of education. It started with Democrats in control during the 2009-10 fiscal year. Scrambling to make up a shortfall in state revenue due to the national financial crisis, lawmakers cut state funding for books from $111 million the year before to $2.5 million.
That drastic reduction was intended as a stop-gap savings in the face of a collapsing economy. Instead, sharply reduced funding has become the status quo. Republicans who took over the legislature the following year restored a portion of the cut, but it has hovered around $23 million for the past three years.
Now that paucity has translated into empty backpacks as children have no textbooks they can take home. Teachers are driving up school costs as they copy sections of the now-precious textbooks that must remain in schools. Children go home with a handful of copied pages.
Lawmakers are among the biggest advocates of parents getting more involved with the education of their children, but how are parents supposed to help with homework if there is no textbook to consult?
Incredibly, lawmakers in the last session ignored the shortage of textbooks and passed a law saying funding would shift from paper to digital textbooks by 2017. That may sound farsighted, but its shortsighted. The conversion to digital cant be made by decree. Many school systems dont have enough computers and electronic tablets to provide all students with digital textbooks.
June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction, said it could cost $75 million to provide schools with the devices they need. Schools will need even more money to buy digital content for the devices.
Meanwhile, some districts that have gotten in front of the technology curve are finding the conversion difficult. Theres more to it than handing out laptops and website addresses. There are issues of affordability for all students, the availability of appropriate digital content and even safety hazards related to electronics.
This situation is an embarrassment on top of a larger funding drought. Teacher assistants have been laid off. Teacher pay has been virtually frozen for years. Now students dont have books. Whats next? Taking away toilet paper and white board markers? (Actually, yes. The N.C. Association of Educators says the latest budget cut classroom-supply funding by $45.7 million.)
Not another state lawmaker should say a thing about public schools until he first says what he is going to do about the inadequate supply of textbooks.
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