October 29, 2012, 1:25 PM — When San Diego public school officials decided to distribute 26,000 iPads to students this year, they were lucky: They already had a big pile of money.
The citys voters had approved a $2 billion bond issue in 2008$500 million of which was designated for a five-year digital transformation program designed to update the districts curriculum. San Diego schools started distributing inexpensive netbooks to students in 2009; the next year Apple unveiled the iPad. And school officials soon changed direction, believing that tablets were a better educational tool.
We were writing a five-year plan, says Darryl LaGace, who was the districts director of instructional technology when the bond passed. He told officials: I fully expect what we write out in year one wont look like what were doing in year three, four, five.
The result is that San Diego was financially well-prepared to join the wave of schools around the nation that are placing iPads in the classroom. Districts in Chicago, Texas, and Massachusetts have all earned headlines as they move to iPad-based education.
But that move comes during time of recession-squeezed budgets, and iPads, after all, arent eligible for Apples educational discount programs. Heres a report on how some schools are finding fundsand how tablets are making deep inroads in certain districts, and even replacing textbooks.
Finding grants, digging deep
Chicagos efforts to distribute iPads to classrooms came during a dramatic budget battleas widely reported, the citys teachers went on strike at the beginning of the school year.
Through grants, the district has been able to provide about 6000 iPads which are used by about 20,000 students, says Franklin Shuftan, a spokesman for Chicago public schools. We estimate that through the use of discretionary funds, individual schools have on their own purchased another approximately 14,000 iPads which are used by approximately 30,000 students.
Its unlikely the Chicago district will be able to change approaches anytime soon, Shuftan adds. The district is facing significant financial challenges and, as a result, we do not plan on any large-scale purchase of iPads this year, but we continue to actively seek additional grant funds to increase the number of iPads available to students.
Grants are also helping some California school districts with high proportions of low-income students. The Barona Band of Mission Indians, long a source of grant funding to such schools, says it paid to distribute 115 iPads to 16 schools in the state this yearup from 38 iPads in six schools a year ago.