Kindles, iPads also could be textbooks in new Senate bill

Well, maybe. On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate voted 45-5 to expand the definition of “textbook” to include computer hardware and technical equipment to support the use of digital content.

“I know how kids learn today, and it is not the way it was when I was a kid,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon). “It is not about telling them to go read a textbook that was written six years ago. It is classrooms that allow our children to learn through whatever means are available.”

Staton’s bill would give local school districts the flexibility to expand their spending options and seek modern, alternative methods of receiving information. Reading devices, where textbooks could be downloaded into the unit, are one option, he said.

He said before the session, he met with several local education officials and school superintendents who urged him to look at ways that could give them more flexibility in how they spend their already tight dollars.

“They said spending is being cut, so give us more flexibility. So this is removing certain state regulations,” said Staton, who chairs the Senate’s Science and Technology Committee. “And technology is advancing rapidly. The definition of a textbook that is traditional is not going to cut it. My 14-year-old will learn better and faster if information is delivered by electronic means, other than ‘go read this.’”

But senators who voted against the bill worried about the cost.

Sen. Steve Thompson (D-Marietta) wondered if funding would come out of already-strained lottery funds. Staton said they are two different issues, and his bill addresses only k-12, while HOPE deals with higher education. Others contend that the language in Staton’s bill is too vague.

“It wasn’t clear as to how it would be funded,” said Sen. Gloria Butler (D-Stone Mountain). “Where is the money coming from?”

For instance, for the 2009-2010 school year, the state will spend $45 million on textbooks. If the bill passes, school districts would be able to start the flexible spending next school year. 

Staton’s bill was supported by several statewide education organizations, including the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.

“One of the deficiencies that we have found over the years is that the funding formula has never been expanded to keep up with inflation or technology,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the 78,000-member group. “To expand the textbook definition to the 21st century is probably a good thing. Students are receiving their information in a wide variety of ways -- social media, virtual classes in a number of areas. So this is something we welcome."

The bill now has to go to the House and ultimately has to be signed off by the state Board of Education.

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