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N.C. Opinions: Winston-Salem

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The digital divide

From an editorial Thursday in the Winston-Salem Journal:

The movement toward the use of digital resources to replace textbooks in public schools – putting 21st-century tools in students’ hands, as one principal put it – makes absolute sense. But the costly transition to the new technology will likely exacerbate the already large socioeconomic gap in education.

The only real solution is for the General Assembly to figure out how to ramp up funding to school districts to replace aging textbooks with digital devices.

State money for purchasing traditional textbooks has declined markedly in recent years. This school year, the state allotment went from $60 per student to $14. The typical textbook cost between $50 and $75 each. Many instructors are teaching from textbooks that are 10 or more years old. And because the supplies are limited, students are not allowed to take the books home.

To encourage the transition to digital devices, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools this year began a “bring-your-own-device” program. But it seems clear that students from poorer families will be at a disadvantage, not only because other students will have the devices sooner, but they likely also have Internet service at home.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal for next year includes $46 million for textbooks. The General Assembly would be wise to work with the governor to move much of that money and more toward the digital transformation of our public schools. We’re already behind.

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