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Editorial: Expensive tech is not what Utah schools need

Education tech initiative a flop

First Published Mar 07 2014 05:27 pm • Last Updated Mar 07 2014 05:38 pm

If Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart is using her wildly expensive technology initiative as a vehicle to launch a campaign against Gary Herbert for the governor’s chair, she’s missing the mark.

It may be presumptive to assume that Lockhart’s motives are primarily political. But if she truly wanted to spend several hundred million on public education — which it certainly could use — why not ask professional educators in the state what they need most?

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Lockhart, instead, obviously huddled with politicians — and perhaps vendors — before proposing to reroute between $200 million and $300 million from funds marked for transportation to buy high-tech personal devices for each of the state’s 600,000 schoolchildren.

Apparently, however, she hasn’t convinced enough legislators, even in her own party. While her House caucus supports the idea, the Senate is balking at the cost, and nobody except Lockhart is buying her assessment that the transportation fund can easily do without several million dollars.

Herbert has said he will veto the appropriation unless it comes in at about a tenth of what Lockhart is requesting, and there is talk the session might end without a budget deal — a failure unheard of in this "best-managed" state.

Herbert, who may be forgiven if he is less than completely open-minded about such a costly proposal after Lockhart publicly called him out on Medicaid expansion on the opening day of this legislative session, makes some valid arguments.

He rightly points out that Lockhart has offered little, if any, evidence of what benefits the devices would have on learning. It sounds good — especially when speaking to voters — to say Utah schools should be launched into the 21st century. But are iPads the best fuel to do that? Or could that money be better spent on providing aides, counselors or smaller classes?

Has Lockhart even posed those questions to the people who could best answer them?

And exactly how would the pricey devices be distributed and would the children own them, take them home, maintain them? And who would replace them if they get lost or ruined?

The needs of Utah schools are many and diverse. Lockhart is wrong if she believes, as she has said, that technology will "transform the system" by itself. If she wants to be the education candidate for governor, she should offer a way to boost revenue, not only for iPads but for early-childhood education, better teacher pay and all the other items Utah schools so desperately need.

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