State lawmakers want to turn Florida’s public school classrooms into digital oases. To make sure it happens, they’ve set goals for increasing bandwidth and reducing regulations on textbook adoption to make room for other learning systems in classrooms. But many school districts in Florida have a long way to go in realizing that digital dream.
“First getting set up as far as devices, is the first expense," said Tallahassee's Buck Lake Elementary School Principal Eydie Tricquet. "That’s running about $400 a child at this point. Then, finding digital content we can use and getting that up and maintaining.”
Only a handful of the 50 or so classrooms at Buck Lake have tablet computers. In those classrooms, the ratio of students per device is 2:1. The school, not the district, paid for most of the technology. And Tricquet estimates in order to put tablets in all her classrooms, “You’re talking $10,000 per classroom. And that doesn’t include training," she says.
There are other costs on top of that. "That’s not making sure there’s an active board—because the students need to see what the teachers are seeing. So we’re looking anywhere from $10,000 to $18,000," she said.
Now, extrapolate that out to the rest of the Leon County’s 37 other schools. That number doesn’t include charter schools or special sites, like the district’s alternative school. And it doesn’t begin to cover lost or broken devices. And what happens when a parent isn’t comfortable with how the devices are being used? That’s a real concern for teachers like Alex Adams and Bryan Howard:
“They’ve been a little leery, and again it’s new," says Adams. "I think the positives outweigh the negatives and I think they see some of that," added Howard.
But despite all the administrative headaches, the teachers say students love having portable computers in the classroom. and Katelin Carden , it’s almost second nature—and has made learning a lot more fun:
“It’s been really, really fun," said 4th grader Kate Karpinski. Classmate Lanie Whitaker agrees. "One of things we use is Ed Modo and this is an interesting website because it’s like a little facebook thing, but only for students in a class, she said.
And the use of tablet computers in the classroom has helped Katelin Carden. "My handwriting’s not too well, and we write a lot of stories, but ever since we use this app called storybird, I really like writing now.”
Florida lawmakers are now looking at how to fund such programs. A bill by Senate Education Chairman John Legg would give school districts a minimum of $100,000 a year for digital education. But that may not be enough.
A preliminary state estimate suggests Florida would have to spend nearly $70 million dollars on basic infrastructure alone. Districts would also have to purchase supplies. And when all those costs are tallied, the state could easily be looking at a billion-dollar price tag to make its digital dreams a reality.