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Brandon lawmaker supports tech-savvy school spending

In the workplace, keyboards and computer monitors replaced typewriters. Smartphones eclipsed rotary phones, and e-mail trumps handwritten letters.

But in schools, the cornerstone of instruction is the same as for previous generations: the paper-and-ink textbook.

However, recently passed legislation supported by state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Brandon, would allow school districts to spend extra textbook money on educational technology. Starting in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, school districts will be able to spend leftover textbook money on approved educational devices, which will include educational software and some hardware such as computers or other equipment.

Hillsborough County will receive $15,254,961 for instructional materials for the 2010-2011 school year, said Connie Milito, chief government relations officer with Hillsborough County School District. It's difficult to know how much of that could be left over once schools buy textbooks, Burgin said. Milito did not have exact figures available for how much money was left over after textbook spending this year, but said it has been a negligible amount in the past.

Still, Burgin said she believed the time had come for a more tech-savvy spending plan.

"I think that we are definitely in a digital world," Burgin said. "A lot of things that we are doing in our educational system needs to move toward making sure we are ready for our young people to move into the workforce."

When Burgin talked to school faculty, she said many of them told her they didn't feel caught up to the rest of the world in the technology they used. In the past, school districts were banned from taking textbook manufacturer deals that would include hardware with textbooks. The legislation allows for that type of textbook bundling, Burgin said.

Jim Hamilton, a consultant with the school district and the district's former chief of staff, said the textbook will remain the backbone of teaching for the foreseeable future. However, the legislation will enable school districts to make purchases that may help improve teaching.

"The school district is held accountable, often more than the student, for the students' performance," he said.

Susan Burkett, principal of Burns Middle School in Brandon, said she didn't feel the quality of education was diminished by previous restrictions on textbook spending. But she likes the flexibility offered by the plan.

"Let's face it, we live in a world that if we're not 3-D and in high-definition coming out of the chalkboard for the kids, they're not interested," Burkett said.

Students sometimes need more than the textbook resources that are traditionally offered to them, said Megan Allen, who teaches fourth grade at Cleveland Elementary in Tampa.

"I think our students are so inclined to use technology," she said. "And a lot of times technology is turned off when they enter the classroom."

Hilary Lehman can be reached at hlehman@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

Brandon lawmaker supports tech-savvy school spending 05/06/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 2:37pm]
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