Education Committee Looks At Suicide Prevention and Textbooks Vs. Technology

Tallahassee, FL – The House PreK-12 Policy Committee took up bills relating to suicide and classroom technology on Wednesday. Gina Jordan tells us one of them passed easily.

The Suicide Prevention Education bill was brought by Representative Bill Heller, Democrat of St. Petersburg. It requires school boards to provide teachers and school administrators with access to resources and offer a suicide prevention course as part of a professional development plan.

"The Florida statistics show that the ninth leading cause of death in Florida happens to be suicide, and among individuals who are fifteen to twenty-four, it's the third leading cause of death. Then, in 2008, we had seven children between the ages of ten and fourteen who committed suicide successfully."

Heller said the goal is for teachers to know the signs of trouble and get the student help. Representative Elaine Schwartz thanked him for bringing the bill.

"Having unfortunately had this in my family, some people don't have the resources to go to get help, and this will at least be a screening for people to know that there's a problem and perhaps get help."

The bill passed the committee unanimously. The books versus laptops debate took much longer. A proposal regarding instructional materials for kindergarten through twelfth grade brought a lot of questions. It would enable school boards to use certain funds to buy computer technology for instructional use instead of textbooks. Jose Gonzalez with Associated Industries of Florida spoke in support.

"Our members realize that the workforce that they need needs to be proficient in technology, and so we want to see as much as can be done to increase that instruction in our classrooms so that we can compete with all the other workforces."

Bob Boyd represents the K-12 publishing industry, which is concerned about the funding.

"We don't think this is the right vehicle to fund hardware out of the content pot."

Boyd says they don't object to the technology itself since they produce curriculum and content online.

"We've already moved into the technology area. We could offer curriculum to the districts for a discount, but the technology is not there. So we concede that the districts need to spend more money on hardware and technology."

The publishing industry is suggesting that lawmakers tap the communications services tax, which the state collects on wireless services. Boyd says $450-million of it already goes to K-12 education and some could be used for technology purchases.

Scott Howat, an administrator with Orange County Public Schools, supports the bill. He says our 21st century students are relying on 20th century teaching methods.

"The delivery of instructional materials in most cases is as important to the students' success as what is in the content. In my opinion, we can't continue to ask students who are digital natives, they're born into a digital society, to come into the classroom and power down and unplug and become just the way that we were doing it twenty, thirty years ago, or even a century ago."

Representative Elaine Schwartz noted there is not enough money to fund instructional materials as it is now, and buying hardware will be much more expensive.

"The difference between hardware and a book is that you'll get an awful lot more books than you will for a piece of hardware. You'll be able to have children have learning materials in their hands."

Citing the tough economy, Schwartz wants to put the bill off for another year. Representative Marty Kiar concurred.

"Right now, because this is a very difficult economic situation for our state and because there isn't another means of funding hardware and textbooks, I am not going to support this at this time, and that's the reason."

Representative Erik Fresen said each district must be able to plan for the inevitable future.

"If Hillsborough County knows what their long-term plans are, they know better than we do. Jackson County, they're going to determine their needs and what their priorities are based on their specific need. We can't as a legislative body try to micromanage and try to do a one size fits all for 67 different districts."

The bill's Republican sponsor said it comes down to technology being important and local districts and teachers needing flexibility. The vote was favorable.