School districts consider e-books to cut textbook costs - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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School districts consider e-books to cut textbook costs

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Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 12:40 pm

A significant decrease in the amount of money school districts throughout the state spend on textbooks is pushing some to experiment with e-books to achieve long-term savings.

However, many school administrators say if there isn't money for textbooks, there certainly isn't money now for the wholesale adoption of electronic textbook devices, like iPads and netbooks.

In Sacramento's four-county region, spending on state-approved, core curriculum textbooks plummeted by 55 percent, or $15.5 million, from 2008 to 2010, according to a Bee review of newly released California school district financial data.

At Elk Grove Unified School District, officials cut one textbook account, which typically covered nearly all instructional materials, from $73 per student during 2008 to just $4 per student last year. Textbook spending from all accounts was roughly $10 per student, or $587,000, district officials said.

The severe drop in textbook funds has created several issues for schools. History teachers are using texts that say there has never been an African-American president. Keeping books that are used year after year intact and graffiti-free has been another challenge. And then there is the increased competition to buy limited supplies of replacement copies of books.

"Other districts haven't adopted (new editions) either, so we are all looking for these same copies," said Tim Gardes, coordinator of library media services and instructional materials at Twin Rivers Unified.

But Gardes and others said it's not all bad. Districts appear to be looking ahead as they study digital options.

At Twin Rivers, for example, the 150 seventh- and eighth-grade students at newly expanded Kohler Elementary School in North Highlands will receive netbooks in the fall with their class materials downloaded as part of a pilot program.

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pushed districts to make the digital leap in 2009 by evaluating free digital textbooks against California's academic standards, and by showcasing which ones can be used in classrooms.

"We love the idea of using e-books to replace textbooks, but to do it on a broad scale is extremely expensive," said Sacramento City Unified spokesman Gabe Ross.

District officials from the area say they recognize the long-term savings e-books offer, but their focus right now is on limiting teacher layoffs and preserving programs.

Districts in the Sacramento region have diverted $19 million of textbook money over the past two years as a Band-Aid to cover budget gaps. Districts were given leeway in 2009 to move previously restricted textbook money into the general fund.

Although districts still receive state funding for things such as textbooks and adult education, many are choosing to use the money elsewhere, data from the California Department of Education show.

Typically, the state adopts new textbooks and instructional materials in core subjects every six years for kindergarten through eighth grade. Individual school districts pick texts for high schools.

Because of the number of subjects and grade levels, there is typically a steady stream of textbook adoptions.

The Legislature, however, halted the adoption of new textbooks until 2013 and suspended a rule that districts buy those new books within two years of their adoption. It could take until 2016 for the state to approve new textbooks because of the lengthy review and printing process. Some say it will be longer.

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