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WUNC: Making the leap from textbooks to digital not so easy in NC

WUNC’s Reema Khrais reports that North Carolina’s support for classroom textbooks has dwindled to rock bottom—and while you might figure that students would instead have access to comparable educational materials in the digital world, making that transition is not happening very quickly and comes at a steep cost.

Schools don’t have the money to buy books, Fairchild [DPI’s chief of textbook services] explains. He pulls out a calculator, and begins punching in numbers to see just how much less the state has invested in textbooks since 2008.

“Eighty percent.  Yeah, 80 percent [reduction],” he says.

Fairchild says that means the books aren’t keeping up with changing curriculums.

“I mean here we are saying that we’re preparing kids for a 21st century environment, and we’ve got books from 2004,” he exclaims.

In Orange County, schools rely on a local sales tax to fund personal computers for most students, calling them their “digital textbooks.” But that local school district is wealthier than most others in North Carolina that lack the resources to get students fully transitioned into a digital educational environment.

In Vance County, only some high and middle school students get their own laptops, and Ross [a Vance County instructional technology facilitator] says they need more money just to keep them up-to-date. Because the state isn’t giving enough, school officials rely on grants and local dollars, which means other areas in education have suffered. The district, for example, doesn’t have as many substitute teachers anymore.

“And that’s a sting. It seems minor, I’m sure to someone on the outside looking in, but you can tell,” she says. “We can tell.”

There’s another big hurdle when transitioning to digital. Amy Walker, director of technology at Ashe County schools, says about 75 percent of kids have internet access at home. So what about the other 25 percent?

“Exactly. And if you require for it to be digital, what are we going to do for those kids?”

North Carolina has until 2017 to get fully transitioned from textbooks to a digital environment. The House and Senate 2015-17 budget proposals both would boost funds for digital resources—but still not enough to fully make the transition for all, says Khrais.

Check out the full report online over at WUNC.

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