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Laptops for every student?

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Franklin school officials are asking for more money from a city board that collects tax dollars meant to help spur economic development.

This time, the request is for $500,000 to buy laptops for high school students. During the summer, city tax dollars from the tax-increment financing district helped pay for secure entrances at some school buildings.

Franklin Community Schools is asking the Franklin Redevelopment Commission to buy more than 1,600 Google Chromebook laptops, which would be provided to every student. The school can’t afford the laptops because of property tax caps, which limit the amount of money available for expenses outside of debt and operating costs, such as equipment and utilities.

The $500,640 for the laptops would come from the city’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, which set aside some property taxes raised by businesses to be used for economic development. Property taxes from new development in those districts don’t go to other government-funded operations such as schools or libraries.

The redevelopment commission has provided money to Franklin schools in the past, including giving about $100,000 last summer to allow the district to make security upgrades at schools within the city limits. In that case, commission members said they felt helping the schools with security was a good use of the tax funds, since the TIF districts keep the schools from collecting some tax money.

Center Grove and Nineveh- Hensley-Jackson have provided iPad tablets to students, but Franklin wants to use Chromebooks because they’re less expensive and allow students to do more because of the keyboard and wide suite of Google applications available, Franklin technology director Matt Sprout said.

The average lifespan of a Chromebook would be three or four years, and replacements would be funded through textbook rental fees or state grants, he said. Annual textbook rental fees would likely decrease as laptops and digital books replace paper copies at the high school, Superintendent David Clendening said.

The new laptop program ties in to economic development by better preparing students to attend college or start a career after high school, school officials said. Redevelopment commission members wanted a month to consider the new request and will discuss it at their next meeting in February.

Franklin schools lose about $3.4 million, or more than 60 percent, of their funding because of caps on property taxes. The money that is raised has to go toward paying debt first, which has forced the district to limit spending on new purchases such as bus replacement or new technology, Clendening said.

“Our capital projects have been slashed dramatically, and we want to provide the best experience for our students,” he said.

The laptops could allow the high school to replace textbooks with digital versions, allow students to tap into online resources while working on homework or projects and allow each student to be able to collaborate online when working on projects, Sprout said. Having a laptop for four years of high school would allow students to get more experience working with technology, which is key as employers are more often looking for new workers with experience in science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds, Clendening said.

The school district regularly pursues state technology grants that could help pay for replacements, but new laptops also could be funded through textbook fees, Sprout said. For example, if the school charged families of high school students $150 per year as a textbook fee, that would pay for the laptop and all of its software, and the district would have enough to replace that computer every two years, Sprout said.

The laptops would be owned by the school district, so students would not take them home during the summer, and when seniors graduate, their computers would be given to incoming freshmen, Clendening said.

Franklin also could start providing an additional class on computer repair and troubleshooting, where students could get hands-on experience by working on school laptops that were damaged or having operating problems, Clendening said. That would allow the school to fix its own laptops as well as provide a new learning opportunity to students, he said.

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