The state’s textbook warehouse, already rather empty due to budget cuts, could become even more vacuous if lawmakers follow through with a recommendation to substantially shift textbook funding from hardbound tomes to e-books.
The issue is likely to be discussed this week when the digital learning committee releases its recommendations for the upcoming legislative session. A draft of those recommendations calls for the General Assembly “to transition funding for textbooks to funding for digital textbooks and instructional resources.”
So far, the transition to online learning has taken place on a piecemeal basis both nationally and throughout the state. Maine, for example, has implemented a shift toward digital textbooks coupled with a policy that provides all seventh and eighth graders and half of the state’s high school students with a laptop.
In North Carolina, Mooresville Graded School District in Iredell County went completely digital 3 ½ years ago in grades four through 12, and the governor’s office recently recognized four high schools and six school systems — Mooresville, Cherokee, Rutherford, and Granville, among others — for their use of classroom technology and digital learning.
The legislative recommendation, however, could make digital learning a much more common practice in North Carolina – a practice that also raises concerns about the so-called digital divide.
While 81 percent of the state’s households have a computer and 80 percent have access to the Internet, there is a large discrepancy between the haves and have-nots.
According to a 2011 NC Broadband report, only 52 percent of households with an annual income under $15,000 have a computer, and 50 percent have access to the Internet. Among those earning $15,000 to $24,999 a year, 62 percent have a computer and 62 percent have Internet access.