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Florida officials want more than $400M to expand digital learning

Florida needs more than 912,000 new “modern computer devices” to ensure all students in grades three to 11 have their own to use in school and at home for schoolwork, officials said.

Convinced that all students should have round-the-clock access to computers, the State Board of Education wants Florida to pay for more than 300,000 digital devices next year so schools can starting issuing them to youngsters who don’t have their own.

The board’s proposal is part of its “Education Technology Modernization Initiative,” which seeks nearly $442 million that also would pay to upgrade internet bandwidth and wireless access in Florida’s more than 3,000 public schools.

The initiative represents the board’s major funding push for the 2013-14 school year and is both philosophical and practical.

State leaders think digital education, where students and teachers can tap into lessons and do work online, is key to preparing youngsters for the modern world.

“We all know what’s at stake: We’re trying to prepare our students in the best possible way for the 21st century, for college and career,” said David Stokes, chief information officer at the Florida Department of Education, speaking at the board’s meeting last week.

They also plan to start giving a new batch of standardized tests to third- to 11th-graders in 2015. Most of those language-arts and math exams will be taken online.

See also:

State’s push for digital textbooks, tests has schools scrambling

Education chief wants textbooks to go digital

Readers: Digital textbook implementation just a dream

“It is imperative that students have experiences in the classroom that match those they will be exposed to during testing,” the board’s proposal stated.

The board’s proposal, however, is just that. The governor gathers such information from all state agencies before crafting his own suggested state budget. The Florida Legislature then will hash out the state’s final spending plan and will determine whether the digital upgrades are funded.

The state began its digital education push last year and wants all textbooks to be replaced by digital learning materials by 2015. But the transition raises many complicated issues, including whether access—at school and home—is equitable across the state and communities.

Some newer schools have the latest in ed-tech devices, for example, but almost half lack wireless access and some don’t even have broadband access. About a third of Florida’s students don’t have access to the internet at home, state surveys have shown.

Other worries: Online, students can tap into a world of knowledge, but not all digital content—even content touted as educational—is of good quality or appropriate for children. And teachers need training to make good use of the technology and the digital offerings.

“Just having computers won’t do it,” said Connie Collins, principal of Crooms Academy of Information Technology in Seminole County.

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