At the beginning of the school year, more than 1,600 Franklin Community High School students started carrying laptops alongside textbooks, and more students could soon follow their lead.
Next, school officials want to find a way for more than 760 students at Franklin Community Middle School to get Chromebooks, like the high school uses, or another device. The goal is to continue to expand the number of resources that students can use in class. Officials want to ensure that students have access to those materials and aren’t getting most of their information from textbooks that can become outdated quickly, technology director Matt Sprout said.
The challenge will be finding the money.
The school district got $500,000 from the Franklin Redevelopment Commission to buy the Chromebooks for high school students this school year. But as soon as the devices were purchased, officials knew that they would have to find a way to replace them in three to four years, Sprout said.
Typically school districts’ technology purchases are paid for through their capital projects fund, which collects money from property taxes; but Franklin has had less money to spend from that fund because of property tax caps. But Sprout believes the school district could still use some of that money to pay for devices for students. Textbook fees paid by families at the start of each school year could cover some of the cost, he said.
School officials likely will not seek additional money from the city to pay for more devices, since the school district needs to find a way to sustain the program on its own, Sprout said.
“The (redevelopment commission) began this process, but we want to make sure we can continue it successfully,” he said.
In addition to being able to replace the devices, school officials also want to expand the program.
Franklin wants students in younger grades to have devices they can use to access the Internet for research and other assignments in and outside class. That’s why the school district has a goal of providing all of its middle school students with Chromebooks or other devices by the start of the 2016-17 school year. After that, officials hope to purchase devices for intermediate school students, but a target date for that hasn’t been set, Sprout said.
Part of what Sprout and officials need to decide is what kind of devices to purchase, since technology continually changes. That means Chromebooks may not be the best, most affordable option for students in a year-and-a-half, he said. But if the school district continues using Chromebooks, which typically are $300 per device, then officials will need to find at least $228,000 to purchase the first set of devices for the middle school students. The high school will need to eventually replace the devices, which would be another $480,000.
One option includes using the fees families pay for textbooks each year. Textbook fees vary by grade level, and in middle and high school the costs depend on the courses a student takes. Under Indiana law, those fees can pay for technology costs including devices if they are being used to teach students.
Sprout also wants to work with school officials to see whether any capital projects moneyc an be used to pay for devices. Currently, all capital projects purchases, for items as small as classroom supplies, have to be approved to ensure Franklin isn’t spending anything on unnecessary projects. Sprout said he expects to have multiple conversations with administrators between now and the start of the 2016-17 school year to see how much the school district can afford to spend.
“I have no doubt we’ll continue to invest in this manner for students,” Sprout said.
Students in the upper elementary grades already are learning how to receive and turn in assignments online, using sets of computers in their classrooms and computer labs of their schools. Sprout wants Franklin to eventually be able to provide devices for each of those students by the time they reach the intermediate and middle schools.
School officials don’t want Chromebooks or other devices to determine what happens in the classrooms. Teachers will decide how to best use the devices in their classes, he said.
“Our goal is instruction, not technology,” Sprout said. “Technology is a tool, one of many tools in instruction, and we want to make sure it’s the best tool that meets students’ needs.”
But he said the number of online resources students can use in class multiplies and changes each year.
“To turn to a textbook that’s going to be six years old isn’t where we want our students to be,” Sprout said.
Here is the plan for Chromebooks at Franklin schools:
Now: Roughly 1,600 high school students have Chromebook devices.
Next: Officials want to purchase devices for the roughly 760 students at Franklin Community Middle School by 2016.
Then: Officials eventually want to purchase devices for intermediate school students, but a target date for that has not been set.