Today, millions of people including myself, are using iPads “to do just about anything you can imagine” as an Apple ad says. We browse the internet, watch videos, read books and research information at the swipe of a finger. However, they can also be misused – a reality that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is slowly starting to grasp.
A few months ago, the school district began rolling out iPads to local schools as part of its $1 billion effort to give every student a tablet computer. The goal was to ensure that all students, especially children from low-income families, have equal access to the latest technology. It is a worthy goal given that iPads hold enormous potential to help students learn in the classroom. However, the roll out was poorly executed. News reports have highlighted how tech-savvy students promptly hacked into their school-issued iPads to disable security features so they can socialize with friends. They tweeted, chatted and updated their Facebook profiles about non-educational things both in the classroom and at home.
Even worse, some of these taxpayer-paid iPads have disappeared which does not bode well for such an ambitious program. It is also not clear whether parents will be liable if their children lose or damage their iPad.
Citing these security and liability issues, at least four schools have decided to delay receiving new iPads for their students, which I agree is a wise course of action. These issues must be resolved by L.A. Unified before going any further to prevent further waste and abuse.
People want truth in budgeting when it comes to their tax dollars, especially given the existing fiscal limitations facing our public schools. That is why as a member of the Assembly’s Accountability and Administrative Review Committee and also a member of the State Allocation Board, I have asked for a special oversight hearing to review LAUSD’s iPad project. I have also asked State Controller John Chiang to look into the matter to ensure that the iPad money is being spent wisely. The purpose of these inquiries is to hold administrators accountable for their decisions. Ever since the project’s introduction, district administrators have made some questionable moves.
But what should be of greater concern to all of us is how the district is forcing taxpayers to pay for the iPads through school construction bonds that will take 25 years to repay, even though the tablets are expected to last an estimated five years. Additionally, voters were not told that the bonds were to be used to fund iPads. I value tools of technology but I understand that anything purchased today will rapidly become old-fashioned. In fact, Apple has announced another iPad version coming out shortly making LAUSD’s recent purchases an older piece of technology. L.A. taxpayers will be paying for the iPads long after they have been dispatched to a recycling plant.
This type of planning makes no sense logically and economically. While it cannot change the past, L.A. Unified should take every step possible to spend existing tax dollars as efficiently as possible. It must strengthen technological and physical safeguards on the iPads, clearly define who is responsible if they are lost or stolen, and find a more cost-efficient way to pay for them.
With proper oversight, we can ensure that the iPads will help our students succeed rather than becoming another taxpayer-funded boondoggle.