Legislative committee told public schools can’t sustain technology replacements

Students use their laptops as a teacher looks on in a classroom. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

RALEIGH — During a Jan. 29 meeting of the House Select Committee on Education Reform, representatives from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) told lawmakers can’t sustain funding for replacement purchases of student devices, mainly laptops.

Laptops for all students were purchased by districts using COVID-19 relief funds, but that money is set to run out in September of this year.

In a presentation given by NCDPI’s Chief Information Officer Dr. Vanessa Wrenn and Digital Learning Initiative Specialist Dr. Ashley McBride, about 75% of districts have said they don’t know how they will be able to replace aging, broken, or missing laptops for students.

“89 of 115 LEAs have reported they do not have identified and/or sufficient resources to sustain their refresh cycles for student devices beyond ESSER funding,” per the NCDPI presentation.

According to NCPDI, there are 1.98 million student devices in districts across the state and 114 out of the state’s 115 districts have one device per student. For charter schools, 162 out of the 215 total number of schools have students with a dedicated device. The vast majority of devices as reported by the districts are Google Chrome books or other Chrome devices.

The annual cost of laptop replacements is estimated at around $200-250 million, or roughly $1 billion every four to five years based on an estimated replacement cost of $525 per device.

The state’s schools have spent $404 million on computer equipment and $183 million on software and supplies since 2020, per information shared with lawmakers.

Last year, the General Assembly also allocated $31 million for school district technology purposes. NCDPI emphasizes the crucial role technology plays in education and advocates for sustainable funding and continued access to the latest tools, including teaching students about artificial intelligence.

Randolph County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Gainey also presented at the meeting and told lawmakers technology funding is a primary concern and that his district isn’t getting enough money from the state to cover rising expenses.

Gainey said his district has received $415,000 for technology from the state but that money only covers a portion of technology-related expenses. He gave an example of $600,000 that is being spent just on software subscriptions.

The Legislative Fiscal Research Division also presented data on public school technology use, including an assessment of supply and demand in the state. The presentation included an expansive list of $108 million through various rounds of federal funds that the General Assembly directed for technology purposes. Of the $108 in total funds, $30 million was allocated for student laptops and another $5 million for staff computers.

Following the student device discussions, Dr. Jeni Corn, NCDPI’s Director of Research and Evaluation, updated lawmakers on learning loss recovery and the new year-over-year look at trends and data for the state’s students.

About A.P. Dillon 1255 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_