Idaho elementary school scraps iPad pilot program

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PAUL, Idaho (AP) — Idaho's top politicians pinned dreams and promises to an iPad pilot program at Paul Elementary School.

The excitement was clear during a December 2012 ceremony announcing the school as Idaho's first iSchool Campus project.

"The students at Paul will help make Idaho one of the most competitive places in the world," Lt. Gov. Governor Brad Little said during the event. Also in attendance that day were Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, state Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer.

Paul Elementary received $244,000 in grant money to cover the first year of expenses. Each of its nearly 500 students had an iPad to use.

But that excitement and state's help didn't last long.

Last year, Paul Elementary applied for a state technology pilot grant to continue the program, asking for more than $375,000 to cover the costs for the second and third years.

The state doled out a total of $3 million to other schools, but rejected Paul's request.

Now, the Minidoka County School District is using supplemental levy money to make the last payment on the iPads.

The effort to bring the pilot program to Paul was championed by Bedke and Cameron. Cameron, whose district includes Paul, said he's glad the school had an iPad pilot project, but it's bittersweet because it did not go as planned.

As state legislators discussed technology funding in 2013, Paul Elementary was at the center of the debate. Some legislators criticized the school's iPad program and claimed the state's technology grants gave Paul an unfair advantage.

This summer, the school tried one last time to secure money through a private grant, but was turned down once again.

Paul Elementary doesn't have a contract with iSchool anymore, but still uses their software to manage the iPads.

"At this point, we still provide limited services and support to the school's administration and faculty as needed," iSchool spokeswoman Sue Winchester wrote in an email to the Times-News.

This year, without funding to support the project, Paul Elementary's iPads were divided among the four elementary schools in Minidoka County School District, to be used by fourth and fifth graders. By dividing the iPads, the district was able to tap into money from its two-year, $1.95 million plant facility and supplemental levy.

The district plans to spend about $900,000 of that money this year on technology, including the final payment on the iPads.

"We passed a supplemental levy (in March) based on the idea that we'd put more devices in student hands," said Superintendent Ken Cox.

Within a couple of weeks, Principal Colleen Johnson expects there will be at least one device for every three students at Paul Elementary. That's because the school's parent group is helping with fundraising efforts to buy additional devices.

"We're getting very close to ordering 90 new iPads," Johnson said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna wants to transition away from technology pilot projects, which he says were never meant to be a long-term solution. Instead, he wants to boost spending statewide for classroom technology, he told the Times-News earlier this month.

Luna's budget proposal for 2015-16 includes an additional $9 million for classroom technology, which would bring the total amount up to $17 million.

Cameron said he prefers a technology pilot approach, since it allows school districts to apply and make decisions at a local level.

It would be good to have one-to-one devices for all school districts if there's enough money, but that hasn't been the case in past years, he said.

It will be up to the next state superintendent to decide the fate of the technology pilot program.

"We're anxious to see what a new superintendent's vision is," Cameron said.

Democrat Jana Jones and Republican Sherri Ybarra will face off during the Nov. 4 election. The Ybarra campaign did not return an immediate request for comment.

Jones said she doesn't think technology projects are the solution. The focus should be how to consistently implement technology statewide, she said.

Currently, schools with technology projects may not have a plan for how to maintain the program, Jones said. Also, children may use iPads in a lower grade, but don't have that technology once they move on.

Money can't just be thrown out there without asking the question of what's next, she said.


Information from: The Times-News,

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