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Classroom iPads offer potential, promise – but at a cost

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The touchscreen tablets have been described as promising teaching tools for teachers and students in the modern day.

But actually getting an iPad (or similar device) into the hands of students can be costly. So who pays for them?

In east-central Minnesota, the Chisago Lakes School District is asking parents to pick up the tab, KSTP reports.

Reporting on a September school board meeting, the Chisago County Press described the policy as eighth-graders being "expected" to carry a tablet; last spring, the paper said students would "have to bring their own electronic device."

Around that same time, KSTP says a letter went out to parents saying tablets would be "required."

But Superintendent Joe Thimm tells the station there's been a misunderstanding, and the devices aren't actually required – there's a $50 rent-a-tablet option for low-income families, and text books are still available for those who want them.

During a September school board meeting, the Chisago County Press reports two women expressed concern about the program.

Jacque Smallman, a parent also running as a candidate for the school board, called it "a barrier to public education." Families whose students are part of the free- or reduced-lunch program can rent an iPad for $50 a year, but Smallman said many families are "too proud" to fill out the paperwork, the paper reports.

The Chisago Lakes School District had about 3,300 students in total as of June 2014.

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By the 2015-16 school year, all students and teachers in St. Paul public schools will have an iPad.

The district began rolling out its ambitious iPad program this fall. There are more than 39,000 students enrolled in St Paul public schools, plus nearly 5,400 full-time staff members, making it the largest district in Minnesota to implement an “iPad for every student” program.

About half of the district's nearly 70 schools will get the tablets between fall of 2014 and February 2015, with the rest of the schools getting them the following year. The Star Tribune described the initial rollout as low key, with as many as 512 families of middle school students getting an iPad over one four-hour period in September.

Officials have pegged the cost of the program at $8 million a year.

The district’s Chief Academic Officer Matt Mohs told the Star Tribune in June that to get this plan moving along it would require the district to lease 28,000 iPads for students and teachers, plus an additional 1,400 laptops for teachers, during the upcoming school year.

Under the lease agreement, the iPads will cost the district between $100 and $125 per student per year – which is a little more than 1 percent of the revenue that a student generates annually, Mohs told the Star Tribune.

Prior to this plan, the district had a nearly $4.3-million deal with Dell to create a new digital learning platform that would act as an online hub for everything school-related, MPR reported. But after one year, school officials decided the system didn’t “serve students … enough to continue investing in it.”

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