Grants Boost Technology Efforts in Idaho Schools

Fifteen schools in Idaho will split a $3 million grant for technology programs next fall, ranging in amounts from $14,000 to a little over half a million, according to Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna.

In order to receive the grant, the schools needed to come up with a pilot program that improved the academic growth of its students as well as being financially feasible, while ensuring the program will be able to be administered on a statewide level in coming years.

"It's clear that educators, students and schools are hungry for the learning opportunities that technology provides" said Luna. "While these 15 schools are ecstatic today for the opportunity to enhance the educational programs for all their students, the students in the 84 other schools are left without the same opportunity. We must have a statewide technology solution for all of Idaho's schools. A parent shouldn't have to hope that their child is lucky enough to attend a school that was fortunate enough to receive a technology grant."

It will be up to the schools to use the money as they see fit for their schools. Many will use the grant to provide each student and teacher with a high-tech device such as a laptop or iPad. Apple TVs, projectors, and other high-tech equipment for the classroom are also on the shopping lists. White boards will be transformed into interactive learning surfaces, and WiFi will be installed.

Mullan Trail Elementary plans to convert their school into a "Google school", where students and teachers can interact via apps while working on projects.

Gaming will also be used by some schools for learning purposes via the grant monies. Based around the Idaho Core Standards, digital awards will be handed out as students reach higher levels in reading, writing and math, writes Betsy Russell for The Spokesman-Review.

If the program is found to be a success, the funds could reach more districts within the next year. Luna believes there needs to be a statewide solution that will allow changing technology to reach more students, whether it be through state-level contracts that schools can access when they see fit, or offering more per-student funding to each school at a district level.

"I'm confident that we'll come up with a solution. This demand is not going to go away, it's organic now, whether I'm here or anybody else is here, this move towards the full integration of technology is going to go forward, so it's incumbent on us to find a solution."

In 2012, Luna proposed a "Students Come First" plan, which would give each student and teacher in the state a laptop. The plan was rejected by voters.

In all, 99 schools applied for the grant, which is in its second year. Eleven schools received the grant last year.

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