By The Gazette Editorial Board
The idea that some children could be worth more than others is repugnant to consider. It contradicts the entire purpose of our public schools.
That’s why state lawmakers a generation ago created a state funding formula in order to provide schools in property tax-poor districts the same resources available to their tax-rich peers. No student should be denied a quality education because of where they live.
But legislators’ intent to level the playing field for schools is circumvented when those resources aren’t enough for districts to meet educational needs.
Increasingly, schools are forced to look elsewhere — to grants, donations and fundraising drives — to fulfill their mission of providing students an excellent education. District by district, school building by school building, the success of those endeavors is anything but equal.
School equity has been a hot topic recently in the Iowa City school district, with the board’s adoption of a diversity policy intended to level out enrollments of students living in poverty among the district’s schools. And while it’s only one piece of the puzzle, that district’s campaign to fund classroom technology provides a relevant case study. Even in that district — one of an enviable few growing school districts in Iowa — strained resources and a reliance on outside support has led to significant disparities in access to technologies that enhance student learning.
Luckily, that district is also able to draw on considerable community support to fund a $2 million campaign to ensure core educational technology is available in every classroom. Not every Iowa school district would be in the same position.
When incorporated into the curriculum, classroom technology, such as interactive whiteboards, multimedia projector and document cameras, help promote engagement and class discussion.
Many teachers have found that by incorporating rich multimedia content into their lesson plans, they can better capture the attention of a YouTube generation.
Classroom computers and educational software give students access to personalized learning activities, including supplemental or remedial lessons.
Studies have shown computer programs can be great aids to rote memorization — such as multiplication tables or spelling words — and motivate students to practice skills.
But it’s no small expense to purchase hardware and software to equip dozens, or hundreds, of classrooms in multiple school buildings. Just keeping up with the upgrades can present a huge challenge to cash-strapped school districts.
Until recently, the Iowa City school district relied primarily on two sources to purchase classroom technology. The first, about $1 million in funds from a 2007 court settlement between Microsoft and Iowa consumers, could only be used to purchase hardware and software for schools meeting a certain threshold of students eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch, based on federal standards.
The second source was a modest portion of the revenues generated through the School Infrastructure Local Option Tax. Some schools were able to fund the purchase of additional equipment from parent organizations, grants or other donations.
The type of technological tools available varied widely between schools (see adjacent chart). The district struggled simply to fund upgrades for what it already owned, implementing a “no growth” policy that all but forbade schools from increasing equipment.
Last summer, The Iowa City Community School District Foundation started a campaign to collect $2 million in donations to bridge the technology gap and make sure each of the district’s 800 classrooms is equipped with an interactive whiteboard, a document camera and multimedia projector. The foundation was able to secure $1.5 million in large donations before launching the public phase of the “EveryClassroom” campaign last week.
The district has been purchasing the equipment as funds come in. If the fundraising campaign is successful, students across the district will have equal access to those technologies, and the interactive lessons they facilitate. It’s a worthy endeavor.
But it also highlights the extraordinary efforts districts and communities must make in order to make 21st Century learning a reality in our cash-poor schools. It makes us wonder about the resource gaps that persist in other Iowa school districts. And how best to address them for the sake of all our state’s students.
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