Can North Carolina Make The Switch To Digital Textbooks By 2017?

North Carolina’s road to all digital textbooks by 2017 remains anything but certain right now. As reported by T. Keung Hui of the Newsobserver, over the past four years, state funding for textbooks has been slashed by nearly 80%. Additionally, the General Assembly will switch to funding only digital textbooks by 2017 according to a new state law passed this year.

The way to implement this plan is uncertain for school districts, the big challenge is the limited number of computers per student. However, the district in Wake County has introduced a bring your own device policy. In October, Wake voters approved a staggering $810 million school construction bond issue that also came with a $130 million in cash set aside by the county. Payment for new devices, such as SMART boards, tablets and laptop computers as well as improving the technology infrastructure so schools can handle large numbers of students trying to go online at the same time is the district’s plan for using that money.

Although a plan is in place, Wake is still behind other much smaller school systems in North Carolina. For example, every student in grades 3 through 12 has been given a laptop by the Orange County school system. Students in middle school and high school have the luxury to take their computers home with them. The program is still partially being paid for by Orange County with a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2011.

Elsewhere, the digital conversion program has thrown the Mooresville Graded School District into the national limelight. The district is providing a laptop computer to every Mooresville student in grades 4-12. All but the third-grade students can take their computers home with them. Any Mooresville student’s family that can show it’s receiving a federally subsidized lunch can receive free internet service from a local internet provider. In addition, other students can get Internet service at a discounted rate. Looking for areas where the district could make cuts is how Mooresville got the program started.

“It really will require finding out what things you can live without,” said Terry Haas, Mooresville’s chief financial officer.

To be more specific, in the 2009-10 fiscal year, state textbook funding was at $111.2 million. The textbook funding was cut to $2.5 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year. The cut was adopted in back 2010 when Democrats were in charge of the General Assembly. The first year that Republicans were in charge, in the 2011-12 fiscal year, funding for textbooks went up to $23.4 million. In the two fiscal years that followed, the textbook funding was $22.8 million and $23.2 million respectively.