News

High-tech classrooms come at a high price

From staff and wire reports
September 2nd, 2011

Students who are assigned more work in class on their laptop are less likely to damage their computers, Farmington has found.

Supplying mobile learning devices to every student can lead to better engagement and true anytime, anywhere learning—but schools should plan carefully to address the need for maintenance and other related costs, as the experience of one New Mexico district demonstrates.

Students owe the Farmington Municipal Schools about $150,000 in laptop fines and fees from the last three years of the district’s one-to-one computing program for middle and high school students. But the district might never see the money.

The laptop program, known as the Farmington Learning Initiative, has only collected about $10,000 in laptop repair fees since the program began three years ago. Designed as a means to give access to computers to the district’s diverse student population, it grants all students from sixth to 12th grade a free laptop to be used at home and at school for educational purposes until they graduate.

The program costs about $2 million annually, paid for by taxpayers. The first year cost about $4 million because the district had to buy three times the usual number of laptops.

The district currently has about 5,300 laptops. After four years of use, the laptops will be inspected and returned for use in lower grades if possible, or recycled if broken.

The district has not even reached the four-year mark for the initial round of computers, and already the students’ laptops are puttering out, reports the Daily Times of Farmington—as they have been throughout the past three years. Between broken screens, hard drives, DVD drives, chargers, and other components, the district is not satisfied with the number of issues it’s had with the technology, or its expense.

The students and the parents feel the same way, especially with the new price hikes.

In August, the district announced that all students in the laptop program would pay $35 a year for an insurance premium, instead of the previous initial payment of $25. The premium, which is hoped to squelch the more lofty fines, will keep all fines at $100 or below.

If a single repair costs less than $100, a student pays the amount of the damages. If the cost is more than $100, they pay a $100 deductible. If the damage is clearly intentional, the student pays the full cost of repair or replacement.

Whether damage is intentional or not—and who is responsible for the damage—is at the discretion of each school principal, district officials said.

“It’s been a learning curve for all of us,” said Janet Hunter, principal of Heights Middle School.