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Senators criticize using stimulus money on iPods

Published August 3, 2010 10:09 pm

Kearns High School • Stimulus cash would pay for the devices.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Two prominent U.S. senators are blasting one Utah high school's plan to use $1 million in federal stimulus money to give all its students iPod touches this year.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., released the third report in a series Tuesday identifying 100 questionable stimulus projects nationwide. Among the projects listed was Kearns High School's plan to use a $1 million Enhancing Education Through Technology grant to give all its roughly 1,600 students iPod touches this school year.

Kearns High leaders say students will download applications to use during lessons, use the iPods to take notes, do research on the Internet and read their English textbooks on them. They will use the handheld devices during class, take them home after school and keep them after they graduate.

"When you can engage a student, get them involved in the learning process, the learning process is much more successful," said Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesman. "This is the future."

But the report released Tuesday identified the project as No. 74 on a list of questionable ventures. It was the only Utah project listed, though an earlier report criticized the Davis County Sherriff's Office for using stimulus money to buy a $24,000 motorcycle.

"There is no question job creation should be a national priority, but torrential, misdirected government spending is not the way to do it," said an introduction to the report signed by McCain and Coburn.

Horsley said Tuesday the district is not concerned about the senators' comments.

"John McCain's comments are part of a political discussion, and I believe his main concern is how it's funded, not necessarily what is funded," Horsley said. "He's doing his job as a senator and we're doing our job as educational experts."

The school is one of several in Utah to receive the stimulus technology grants. Northwest Middle School in Salt Lake City will also get about $1 million this school year to give all its students access to Netbooks and allow them to use iPod touches in math and science classes, said Rick Gaisford, education technology specialist at the Utah State Office of Education (USOE). And Ben Lomond High School in Ogden will use its $1 million to equip English classrooms with computers for each student and improve technology in its other classrooms. Students at Monument Valley High in the San Juan District will also get iPod touches as part of a partnership with Kearns High.

Gaisford said the state was awarded about $3.2 million in the grants for academically struggling schools. USOE reviewed proposals and decided which districts should get the money.

"These are schools [where] a lot of the traditional things that have been done in education perhaps haven't worked as well as they could have or should have," Gaisford said. "The difference here is we're going to be using tools and resources kids are aware of and excited about and hopefully be able to better engage them."

But two Utah congressmen, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, also said Tuesday they feel the project is not a good use of stimulus money.

"You have people here in Utah who are out of work, and they're going to look at these iPods being handed out to kids," Chaffetz said. "It's just so not right."

Kearns High students, who will start using the iPods in class as early as November after teachers are trained, expressed mixed feelings about the project Tuesday.

"It's wonderful," said Shannon Fahey, a senior and Kearns student body president. "Kids have just grown up with this kind of stuff."

Senior Sean Benson, however, said "there will probably be some people who will use it to play games and download apps they're not supposed to."

Benson's mother, Leslie Benson, is undecided. "It's really hard to say it's a waste without having gone through a year," she said.