As Calif. Districts Slash Textbook Spending, Some Consider E-Books

A significant decrease in the amount of money school districts throughout the state spend on textbooks is pushing some to experiment with e-books in order 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 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.
“The nice thing is they are more interactive,” said Laura Lofgren, coordinator of K-12 English language arts curriculum at Twin Rivers. “It isn’t just PDFs of the text. They can touch a word and get the pronunciation. There is embedded video.”
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.
Anne Zeman, director of curriculum and professional learning at Elk Grove Unified, said districts are in a transitional phase right now as they analyze their next move.
“Most districts are seeing it’s a certainty we will be moving to digital materials,” Zeman said. “Therefore, we have to make sure all of our schools have the technological equipment and that our students at home would have access.”
For now, many district officials say they are studying the effectiveness of electronic textbooks at other schools across the country.
“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—Yolo, Placer, Sacramento and El Dorado counties—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.
Restrictions were also lifted on 39 other programs and funding categories, such as adult education, which has also seen tremendous cuts statewide.
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.
For example:
• Twin Rivers spent $4.1 million on textbooks in 2008 and $1.2 million in 2010.
• Sacramento City Unified spent $5.3 million in 2008 and $3.5 million in 2010.
• Center Joint Unified spent $516,000 on textbooks in 2008 and $20,500 in 2010.
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 the high school level.
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.
By halting the adoption process for new books, 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.
For 11th-graders in Sacramento City Unified schools taking Advanced Placement U.S. history, that means their 2001 books could be 15 years old by the time new texts are approved.
At Twin Rivers, the district faces a unique hurdle by delaying textbook adoptions to save money. Twin Rivers schools are using two different English texts, because new books have not been adopted since the district was created in 2008 from the merger of four districts.


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