Giving Kids Access to Digital Textbooks

Oct 7, 2013

Virginia’s school boards would have until 2017 to plan for complete student access to electronic textbooks IF they decide to use them … under a bill recommended by a General Assembly advisory panel.  The measure aims to close a digital divide that’s already opened up among some students who don’t have access to e-textbooks at home.  While the solution is more complex than it seems, panel members say fixing the problem can’t wait.

Some books are downloaded while others are on-line, but many students still do NOT have devices to read them.  Bill sponsor Delegate Scott Surovell said even if computers were provided to all, some can’t afford Internet access or don’t have that infrastructure in their homes.

“Of course it leaves, I think, thousands of kids getting a substandard education right now—today.”

He said schools do try to provide hard copies for them.

“One of the complaints I’ve heard from a lot of teachers is that because a lot of their students can’t use them, they’ve been blowing out their copying budgets, copying paper to get their homework problems to the kids.”

Panel members pointed out that some schools also require on-line assignments, but mandating universal broadband connectivity would come at a high cost.  Surovell read from the state Constitution about the General Assembly’s obligation.

“‘It shall ensure that textbooks are provided at no cost to each child attending public school whose parent or guardian is financially unable to furnish them.’ And, you know, when I read that and I think about what we’re doing right now, if I were a lawyer looking for some work, it sounds like a great lawsuit to me.”

Martina Hone, with Coalition of the Silence, said she will explore that option.